A Wasteland Of Corpses, Living And Dead: A Devastating Inside Look At Phoenix’s Homeless Zone

A Wasteland Of Corpses, Living And Dead: A Devastating Inside Look At Phoenix’s Homeless Zone

By Corinne Murdock |

Intense poverty, frequent crime, social instability, high mortality, poor living standards: these qualities describe third-world countries. They also describe “The Zone”: the sprawling encampment of over 1,000 homeless in downtown Phoenix just blocks from the state capitol and amidst what was once a thriving business district. It’s an area where law and order don’t seem to exist; so much so that locals have given the area another, much darker nickname: “The Thunderdome.”

The crisis reached a new high after the discovery of a premature baby’s remains several weeks before Thanksgiving last year, burned in the middle of the street. A month later, a similar grisly fate befell a homeless man.

“That child burned… that was the beginning of the end for me. I don’t know why that hit us so hard,” said Karl Freund, who was leasing a building in The Zone and is suing the city of Phoenix over their handling of the homeless crisis. “Someone set a child on fire, and then two weeks later somebody burned a body just a block away. Then you see the people that are so mentally ill that you can’t place them in society. We walked out a year ago to see a girl masturbating 20 feet away from my car in the parking lot.”

Death and depravity are a common occurrence in The Zone.

Last month, Phoenix police shot and killed a Spanish-speaking homeless man who lunged at them with scissors. Attempts to incapacitate the man with stun guns were unsuccessful. Police had responded to a 911 call from a woman reporting the man approaching her aggressively while attempting to trespass her property.

Drug deals, addicts using, defecation and urination, assaults, sexual acts, and rapes are also done out in the open with increasing impunity. Gangs run the streets of The Zone, making the homeless pay for their tent space and beating them up at will. Registered sex offenders roam the streets, having been dropped off in The Zone. Businesses close but must continue paying rent.

Homeless in The Zone
Homeless sit outside of Angie Ojile’s business and other businesses in The Zone.

The Zone sprung up outside Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) Human Services Campus, an organization that provides food, shelter, and more to the homeless. It’s located in a dense and diverse business district that includes a near-historic sub shop, appliance manufacturer, cabinet manufacturer, steel manufacturer, millworker, textile company, metal supplier, door supplier, ironwork company, glass and mirror shops, counter supply store, air conditioning supply store, funeral supply store, motorcycle shop, RV shop, auto repair store, electrical supply store, art museum, custom printer, waste services, paper company, several recycling services, several automotive stores, and several transportation companies. Business owners neighboring The Zone have seen the homeless population — and attendant crime — grow over the last two years and four months.

Angie Ojile, a commercial designer and realtor in The Zone for over 20 years, said that she sees this and more every day. She said she watched four people taken out of the area in body bags in a one-day period. The level of danger is so prevalent that Ojile says that other businesses refuse to come there: pizza shops won’t deliver, and plumbers won’t service the buildings. Limitations on those services pale in comparison to her other, more pressing problem: retaining employees. Ojile told AZ Free News that one young woman she hired was initially excited to work for her, but left out of fear for her safety after several days navigating The Zone.

Ojile says the city is to blame for these troubles.

“Everything they do defies logic. It’s hurting people — not helping people,” said Ojile.

The homeless relentlessly bombard Ojile’s property with human waste, fires, garbage, drug use, assaults, and gang activity. Ojile estimates that she spends more on cleanups around her property than some pay for mortgages.

“The ground is so saturated with feces and urine, I can’t even breathe. We’ve got walls that are so full of feces, it’s disgusting. You can’t even look in that direction,” said Ojile. “We had dreams when we bought this property, and now we’re paying for it.”

Property assessments estimate Ojile’s property to be worth well over $2 million — but only if The Zone didn’t exist. A realtor told Ojile that her property was essentially worth nothing due to The Zone, and that he couldn’t sell the property in good faith due to that. Anyone who bought Ojile’s property — if buyers could be found — would find themselves in the same predicament as Ojile: unable to run her business properly, causing her to fall behind on property taxes.

Ojile said that nobody from the city bothered to return her calls for help. The supervisor representing that district, Steve Gallardo, has never returned her calls. Even an ombudsman wasn’t able to get information for her in a timely manner, something which the ombudsman allegedly remarked was unusual.

“I went to the city immediately for help, but no one would ever get back to me,” said Ojile.

This crisis hasn’t just taken a financial toll on Ojile; it has imposed a great emotional and physical toll. Ojile’s dog has gone missing three times, at least. The homeless have cut her fence to take the dog; she’s had to track down her dog in homeless tents and even an animal shelter.

Last week, Ojile became severely ill while working inside her business — a sickness unlike she’d experienced before. The room she was working in wasn’t completely insulated from the outside: she had to board over one of the windows, since the homeless would break it every time she fixed it and the city would fine her for blight over the broken window. Ojile suspected that she’d been exposed to someone smoking fentanyl.

Homeless in The Zone
Homeless use drugs inside Phoenix’s sprawling encampment known as The Zone.

Help from law enforcement isn’t always an option for Ojile in situations like that. According to Ojile, officers told her that they wouldn’t enforce the law equally in The Zone for fear of losing their jobs.

Phoenix Police Department (PPD) reported 278 incidents in 2020 and 206 incidents in 2021. There were around 200 incidents last year. There have been well over 4,000 calls from 2019 through last year, with over 1,200 calls for fire department assistance alone last year.

For Freund, the growth of crime in the area has reached a tipping point. He’d hoped to open a real estate office in the building he’d leased, but the state of the area hasn’t made that possible. Freund said that the PPD has not only stopped responding but stopped answering their calls.

“The day-to-day down there is unlivable for anybody and I can’t believe we subject humans to this environment,” said Freund. “Why would you subject humans to that kind of living condition? There’s prostitution, murder, physical beatings.”

Freund fought to open his business in that building, spending hundreds of thousands on property taxes, renovations, and fixing damages caused by the homeless. According to Freund, they’ve attempted to set his building on fire multiple times and stolen all of the copper wiring and pipe. He gave up hope on the property after 20 months; he managed to find another to sublet the property. The thousands he spent in property taxes and beautification wasn’t enough to spur the city to action — just as is the case for so many others in The Zone.

Although these business owners have languished for years, several weeks’ worth of sports fans visiting the city were spared the crisis. Ahead of the lucrative NFL Super Bowl and PGA Waste Management Open that were held in the Phoenix area in February, the city committed to cleanup efforts of homeless encampments. However, these cleanup efforts aren’t permanent. The homeless are free to return to the areas after cleanup ends; they already have. Only 33 of the homeless accepted services during Phase One of the city’s December cleanup, according to the deputy director for the Office of Homeless Solutions, Scott Hall.

Apart from cleanups, the city has directed their millions in funding on a “housing first” or “permanent supportive housing” model, sometimes called “affordable housing.” The theory behind this model is that the homeless will choose to seek employment, become financially responsible, and receive mental health care and/or substance abuse treatment if food and housing are provided. The theory also posits that enabling the homeless to choose their housing and support services will make them more likely to remain in that housing and stick with self-improvement initiatives.

The city has poured millions of funding to create housing; yet available housing hasn’t kept pace with the number of homeless, the retention rates of the homeless in their housing and program participation remains poor, and the crisis is progressively spreading to surrounding areas. Even so, the city allocated another $12 million last October, another $8 million last November, and another $25 million in January to prove the housing first theory correct.

The city recently unveiled their latest attempt at free housing for the homeless on Feb. 8: five shipping containers repurposed for “sustainable” housing. These living structures’ purported sustainability comes at the cost of $200,000 for one-bedroom, one-bathroom’s worth of solar panels providing power, an incinerator toilet, LED lighting, and economical heating and cooling. The Arizona Department of Housing issued a $1.2 million grant for the five units.

Then there was the 24/7, single-stall, $200,000 toilet for the homeless launched in January.

Other city initiatives providing the homeless with more resources also appear to have failed to make a noticeable impact on the crisis.

In December, the city launched an employment program that pays the homeless $65 to work five-hour shifts. However, those directly impacted by or handling the crisis say that these kinds of approaches haven’t led to lasting change.

Ojile said that the homeless she’s known for many years don’t feel like they’re getting help. Some of the homeless she knows in the area have been there for decades. They’re trapped alongside Ojile.

“We can’t get out. They’re crashing our property values,” said Ojile. “There’s people that are homeless that don’t want to be near this.”

A broker estimated the value of Ojile’s property at around $2.4 million. However, the broker informed Ojile that her property is unmarketable due to the state of The Zone.

“[The] values are based ‘as if’ the property was not associated or in proximity to the situation currently occurring adjacent to the Property (i.e. homeless, mental health, drugs, gangs, etc.). Unfortunately, the property is deemed unmarketable at any realistic value at this date due to these issues along with safety concerns that would be perceived by any prospective buyer, tenant or investor that would normally have invested in the property. Further, at this date, the city of Phoenix who is trying to manage a difficult problem, has ‘kicked the can down the road’ and now that ‘can’ is on and surrounding your property. Additionally, since you have disclosed various items to me (break-ins, been threatened, witnessed drug purchases, individuals urinating/defecating on the property, etc.) as a licensed real estate agent held to ADRE Rules and Statutes, I am required to notify all potential buyers, tenants, investors of such. Therefore, as referenced above, post touring the property, which they will see the issues firsthand and my disclosure of all facts I am aware of associated with this property, I again state that the property is unfortunately ‘unmarketable’ at this time.’” (emphasis added)

trash in The Zone
Angie’s property and others are regularly bombarded with human waste, fires, garbage, and drug use,

Judge Glock, a senior fellow with a Texas-based nonpartisan policy group called the Cicero Institute, said that leaders are gravely mistaken to believe that a housing-first approach works.

“They’re convinced by a very small group that nothing can be done, that anything that moves people off the sidewalk is cruel, and the only option is a house for every single person that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per person,” said Glock. “It’s an unfortunate mindset, but that’s what a small group of activists have convinced them.”

Jeff Taylor, chairman of the board for the Salvation Army’s western territory, said that residential behavioral health treatment needs to occur before any kind of housing efforts. Taylor shared with AZ Free News just one of many initiatives to house the homeless that failed.

“They took 20 of their star people from the shelter, they got them apartments and they went to Target and got furniture, went to Walmart, got their closets filled with clothes, moved all 20 into apartments and they had employment. Within a week they’d sold everything, and they were running drug dens out of the housing,” recounted Taylor. “The problem isn’t getting someone clean; it’s keeping someone clean. Recovery is measured in years.”

Taylor said that the homeless with mental health or drug addictions were only as good as their treatment programs. What’s more, Taylor expressed concern that the crisis would only worsen due to the newest drug to hit the streets: fentanyl. The potency equivalent of other, more costly hard drugs, such as crack cocaine and heroin, only costs $1 for fentanyl.

“This is a humanitarian crisis that will only get worse,” said Taylor. “Fentanyl is a whole other ballgame.”

Sam Stone, a Phoenix City Council candidate, said that permanent supportive housing wouldn’t incentivize the homeless to get their lives on track. Stone doesn’t live in The Zone, but he’s spent much time there over the years attempting to solve the crisis.

“We have to start from the perspective that chronic street homelessness is not an acceptable lifestyle choice,” said Stone. “What they’re talking about is just warehousing addicts and mentally ill people until they die. Without treatment for their issues, they’re never going to get better. All they ever do is demand we spend more and more money. None of that does anything to change what’s going on. You have to lead with services. You have to switch things around. You have to make it tough to live on the street and easy to get into treatment.”

Stone and others we spoke to referenced Austin, Texas, as a poster child for mitigating homelessness. Austin voters reinstated a public camping ban in May 2021, after the city council ended a similar ban that had been in place for 23 years. Encampments quickly flooded the city, and the homeless were underfoot everywhere. That reality no longer exists: the homeless are few and far between throughout the city, and shelters are operated on a closed-campus basis, meaning that the homeless have to be referred in order to receive services.

Viewing The Zone and Phoenix’s homeless crisis isn’t a partisan issue. Catherine Miranda, a newly elected Democratic state senator representing the district containing The Zone, published a lengthy article last December criticizing the city’s approach to addressing their homeless.

Miranda declared that Phoenix’s housing first dreams had failed her homeless constituents. The freshman lawmaker urged the enforcement of existing street camping bans, prioritization of short-term rather than permanent housing, and treatment of mental health and addiction problems first.

“Phoenix wants to give the homeless permanent homes without addressing the root causes of their homelessness. No wonder it’s been a disaster,” wrote Miranda. “The state and city should refocus on a ‘Treatment First’ philosophy. While the failed ‘Housing First’ model does not require treatment for drug addiction or mental health problems, programs like recovery housing tie to sobriety or mental health checkups.”

Miranda also noted that building houses takes years, resulting in the homeless continuing to live a dangerous, unhealthy lifestyle on the streets.

“While we wait years or decades for these thousands of homes to be built, they want to keep allowing our most vulnerable neighbors, who are struggling with drug addiction and severe mental illness, to live and die on our streets,” stated Miranda.

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) annual point-in-time (PIT) homeless counts over the past few years reflect a historic high in the homeless population, the likes of which haven’t been experienced in well over a decade. Last year’s MAG counted nearly 3,100 unsheltered homeless. That’s a 131 percent increase from 2013, when there were just over 1,300 unsheltered homeless.

The 2022 PIT also reported that 44 percent of homeless were in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe haven programs, while 56 percent weren’t. 2020 was the first time in recent years that there were more unsheltered homeless individuals: 49 percent were sheltered homeless individuals, while 51 percent weren’t. However, this decline preceded efforts to mitigate COVID-19 spread, such as reducing shelter capacity.

In 2019, 52 percent were sheltered, while 48 percent weren’t. Even those 2019 numbers reflected a significant decline in the number of homeless seeking sheltered services: the number of unsheltered homeless increased by 22 percent from 2018 to 2019, while the number of sheltered declined by seven percent.

According to the latest Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Inventory Count, Maricopa County and Phoenix had over 12,300 beds available for homeless housing last year. Nearly 8,100 of these were permanent housing, while just over 4,200 were emergency, safe haven, and transitional housing.

a fire burning in The Zone
A fire burns inside The Zone.

Homeless deaths have also been increasing at a significant rate. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that homeless deaths more than doubled from over 250 in 2019 to nearly 600 in 2020, with a slight decline to just over 500 in 2021 before skyrocketing to over 700 last year.

Though crimes and deaths have increased in the area, emergency services haven’t been able to keep up. Emails obtained by AZ Free News revealed that the Phoenix Fire Department won’t respond to calls without PPD assistance and assurance that the scene of the incident is secure, due to how dangerous The Zone has become.

Even then, police claims of an incident scene being secure aren’t always accepted by first responders. Emails revealed that the scene could span multiple city blocks and contain crowds likely to assault the emergency responders.

The emails also revealed that first responders considered the Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots of 2020 to pale in comparison to the everyday dangers of The Zone. The first responders noted that they lacked adequate protection and resources to respond in that area.

“At no point during the protests did I feel like our folks were in the potential danger that they face every day responding to the area surrounding CASS,” stated the email.

Freund says he noticed a shift in the city’s handling of the homeless around November 2020. He said that the numbers of homeless in The Zone began to increase greatly around that time, and that the homeless became more resistant to residents’ requests to move. Freund said that law enforcement activity began to slow down around that time as well.

Now, Freund and leaders like Stone are warning that this problem is spreading.

“You walk into The Zone, it’s like you’re walking out of America. It’s a nightmare hellscape that shouldn’t exist anywhere in this country, but it’s also what a lot of our major cities are coming to look like,” said Stone. “Unless we start looking to get our homeless population into treatment or off the streets, The Zone isn’t going to stay in The Zone.”

Click an image in the gallery below for more images:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Payne Bill To Protect Police From Ambush Heads To Senate

Payne Bill To Protect Police From Ambush Heads To Senate

By Daniel Stefanski |

A bill that was widely supported by Arizona law enforcement and passed out of committee with broad bipartisan approval met a partisan crowd when it arrived for a vote in the full State House of Representatives.

HB 2485, sponsored by Representative Kevin Payne, would enhance sentencing for convicted criminals who ambush police officers in the line of duty. According to the overview of the legislation provided by the Arizona House, this bill “increases the penalties for aggravated assault on a peace officer if the defendant is found to have lain in wait for or ambushed the peace officer while committing the assault.” The bill requires that “a person who is convicted of aggravated assault on a peace officer, and found to have lain in wait for or ambushed the peace officer in committing the assault, be sentenced to two years more than what would otherwise be imposed for the assault.”

This piece of legislation seemed like a slam dunk for passage out of the Arizona Legislature, but the final clearance from the House of Representatives was anything but. All but one Democrat voted against HB 2485, with Representative Amish Shah not voting. All Republicans voted to send the bill to the Senate.

Freshman lawmaker Cory McGarr noted the shocking vote against a bill designed to protect members of Arizona’s law enforcement community, writing, “All of the Dems voted against protecting police from AMBUSH. Might want to call your Democrat representative and ask why only Republicans voted to protect police.”

The result of the vote on the House floor was unlike the actions out of House committees earlier in the legislative process. When the bill was heard before the Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety (MAPS) – chaired by the sponsor, Representative Kevin Payne, it passed with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote; 13 members voted yes, one Democrat voted no, and another Democrat was recorded as present. Representative Sun, who voted no on the bill in committee explained that she had pause on supporting the bill because the “definition of ambush is very vague,” and she was concerned about “further criminalizing our constituents and adding to our privatized prison system.” HB 2485 cleared the House Rules Committee with a unanimous 8-0 vote.

Several representatives of the Arizona law enforcement community testified in support of the bill before the MAPS Committee. Don Isaacson, on behalf of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police (Arizona State Lodge), relayed the endorsement of HB 2485 from the 10,000 police officers who comprise his organization. The key for Mr. Isaacson and his police officers was the change from “optional” enhancement for convictions of ambushing a police officer to “mandatory.” Rebecca Baker, the Legislative Liaison for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office also testified in favor of the bill; as did Joe Clure, the Director of the Arizona Police Association, who made clear that it’s important to send a clear message to those who ambush police officers will be dealt with “harshly and firmly.”

But the most convincing testimony in front of the House MAPS Committee came from the President of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, Paul Sheldon, who has served for more than 23 years as a police officer. He expressed regret that this legislation was even necessary – especially since there was a time in his career, where these types of crimes against police officers were extremely rare. However, he noted that last year was the deadliest year for law enforcement in more than twenty years. He told the committee that 21 Arizona police officers were shot in the line of duty in 2022, and 16 of those were ambush attacks. Two of those ambushed officers died in the line of duty.

HB 2485 now heads to the Arizona Senate for its consideration.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Arizona Medical Leaders Alarmed By Rising Marijuana Poisoning In Children

Arizona Medical Leaders Alarmed By Rising Marijuana Poisoning In Children

By Corinne Murdock |

The number of Arizona children poisoned by cannabis ingestion has more than quadrupled since the state legalized recreational marijuana.

Last year, there were 394 pediatric cases of cannabis poisoning; 60 percent of those required a hospital visit. This year-over-year spike in poisonings prompted the Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA) and the Arizona Poison Centers to create a partnership to raise awareness. One of the campaigns will work to place signs in dispensary windows containing a QR code guiding consumers to the ADA website with information and education about safe cannabis usage.

Steve Dudley, Director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, claimed that increasing public education and encouraging safer storage of cannabis products would lead to a reduction in these types of poisonings.

“Thankfully we know that with proper education and safe storage we can dramatically reduce these exposures and hospitalizations,” said Dudley. “We must do a better job at distinguishing toxicity from regulated products purchased at dispensaries and unregulated products from the black-market including spice and delta-8 THC.”

Yet, other states to legalize marijuana in recent decades haven’t seen increased public awareness make a dent in the ever-rising number of child cannabis consumption.

Colorado has similar regulations to prevent children from consuming cannabis products: barring the manufacture of edibles in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit; requiring sales in child-resistant packaging; prohibiting the words “candy” or “candies” on cannabis product packaging; prohibiting cartoon characters in cannabis product advertising; and requiring the inclusion of the universal THC symbol on all packaging and stamped on all edible products.

Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division indirectly admitted in an interview with KHN that these regulations do little to curb the increasing number of children ingesting cannabis products.

“When asked whether the mandates are effective, [Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division spokesperson Shannon] Gray said the Marijuana Enforcement Division has ‘observed material compliance with these regulations’ among marijuana businesses,” stated KHN. 

For children, marijuana results in problems walking, sitting up, and breathing; some develop seizures. The CDC declared that child marijuana poisonings have increased wherever marijuana has been legalized. Colorado’s marijuana exposures nearly doubled the year after they legalized it, 2015; these numbers reflected a five-fold increase from 2009. In 2021, the Maricopa County Poison Control Centers reported 163 pediatric cannabis poisonings, 108 of which warranted hospital admission or emergency treatment, compared with 86 reported poisonings in 2020. 

The CDC warned that children are more susceptible to the brain-damaging results of marijuana: memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotion, and reaction time. 

The CDC also notes that long-term or frequent marijuana use has been linked to psychosis or schizophrenia.

According to America’s Poison Centers (APC) National Poison Data System (NPDS), the nation’s warehouse for the nation’s 55 poison centers, there were over 7,000 children under 5 exposed to cannabinoid in 2021, over 2,300 from ages 6-12, and nearly 4,700 from ages 13-19.

Arizona legalized recreational marijuana in November 2020 through Proposition 207, which included guardrails that were supposed to prevent these pediatric poisonings: requiring manufacturers and dispensaries to use child-resistant packaging and banning the sale of cannabis products in the form of gummy worms and gummy bears. Yet, the number of pediatric poisonings has steadily increased.

Ninth Circuit Court Judge Roopali Desai authored the ballot initiative summary for Prop 207 while she was a lawyer in Phoenix. The Biden administration nominated her to the court last year.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Phoenix Bans Home Sellers, Landlords From Refusing Housing Vouchers

Phoenix Bans Home Sellers, Landlords From Refusing Housing Vouchers

By Corinne Murdock |

Home sellers and landlords may no longer refuse potential homebuyers or tenants based on their source of income. Those who dare to do so may face up to $2,500 in daily fines. If the city attorney takes action on the violations, the court may issue a $50,000 fine for a first violation and $100,000 for subsequent violations.

The ordinance mainly offers assurance of guaranteed housing for those who rely on government assistance to acquire housing, such as Section 8 participants. Those eligible for Section 8 housing vouchers include those who are homeless or low income.

The ban even received support from Councilman Sal DiCiccio, often the odd vote out on controversial council issues. DiCiccio was the first to put the proposed ban on the agenda, according to Mayor Kate Gallego.

However, DiCiccio noted that he was voting in favor of the ban only in spirit, not physically, since he gave his word to realtors that he wouldn’t support banning income discrimination for homebuyers.

DiCiccio said income discrimination was a form of institutionalized racism. 

“People know I don’t use the race card, I just do not, unless I believe it’s true,” said DiCiccio. “I looked at it more when it came to dealing with the Homeowners Associations who create deed restrictions. Deed restrictions are made to keep people out, not keep people in.”

DiCiccio said that he sees these kinds of gatekeeping even within his own community, which is a majority white, liberal community. 

“I was shocked by it. I live in a mixed household myself, and I feel very strongly about it. Diversity does improve your community, it just does. It’s an important factor in our lives. You want as many people around you that have differing viewpoints, differing ideas, different looks,” said DiCiccio. “[Source of income discrimination] is a type of institutionalized racism that I have strong concerns over.”

According to DiCiccio, the Arizona Multihousing Association (AMA) said they would sue the city over this ban. DiCiccio said that the AMA should be ashamed for considering that response. The AMA represents the apartment industry in the state, with over 2,000 members. 

“I would be embarrassed if I were them, to threaten to sue the city of Phoenix after what we’ve done for them over the years and taken the lead on,” said DiCiccio. “My plea to you: don’t embarrass yourself.”

Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, AMA president and CEO, said in a statement to reporters that these kinds of policies would only make the housing crisis worse. LeVinus was critiquing a proposed bills from State Rep. Analisa Ortiz (D-LD24) that would ban income discrimination (HB2085), prohibit landlords from evicting for partial rent payments (HB2083), and allow rent caps (HB2086). 

“[These policies are] curtailing the rights of property owners, making it more difficult for companies and mom-and-pop owners to stay in business and to provide homes for individuals and families,” said LeVinus.

Instead, LeVinus proposed reducing bureaucratic rules to improve homebuilding speeds. 

“We need to slash away layers of bureaucracy and fight the rampant NIMBYism that makes building new homes such a slow, torturous process,” said LeVinus. “Doing so would address the housing crisis, not make it worse, and help ensure the Arizona economy continues on a steady upward trajectory.”

DiCiccio further claimed that institutions exist which actively discriminate against people attempting to get housing based on the color of their skin. 

“A lot of individuals that are poor or people of color in particular are locked out of certain areas. They just are. Either it’s an affordability issue, or you’ve got this institutionalized type of programming in place that does not allow them in there,” said DiCiccio. “I think that’s just sick, personally. I think people should have the ability, freedom to be able to go into those communities that they want to move into. That’s how God made us, they gave us the free ability to move.”

Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari said that over 15,000 residents were on a waitlist for affordable housing assistance. 

“We need to do everything in our power to ensure that our residents have access to adequate housing and that are actually able to utilize the programs that are intended to help them, like Section 8, disability, and others,” said Ansari. 

Ansari criticized the state legislature for supporting income source discrimination, mainly referring to the Republican legislators leading an effort to prevent hotels and motels from being required to accept housing vouchers from the homeless. The vice mayor said that the legislators should be spending their time increasing funds for affordable housing projects.

“It’s time for the legislature to do its job so Phoenix can do its job to ensure housing affordability,” said Ansari. 

Councilwoman Betty Guadardo said she empathized with the activists present at Wednesday’s council meeting. The councilwoman equated modern income discrimination with the discrimination that people faced during the Civil Rights Era, when homebuyers were discriminated against based on the color of their skin. A large group of activists showed up to speak in favor of the income discrimination ban. 

“Discrimination has no place in the city of Phoenix,” said Guadardo.

Guadardo confirmed that the city of Phoenix was following the example of the city of Tucson, which banned landlords from discriminating against potential tenants’ source of income last September. 

Ordinances have a 30-day wait period; however, the council is awaiting an opinion letter on the subject from Attorney General Kris Mayes. Should the opinion letter be unclear or unfavorable, then the city would have to reconcile any legal issues before enacting the ordinance. Councilwoman Laura Pastor expressed concern that the legal obstacles would leave the city without the capacity to enforce the ordinance.

“I have been briefed that there is a possibility that we don’t have the capacity to enforce it,” said Pastor. 

City Manager Jeff Barton speculated that there may not be enough city staff to enforce the ordinance. However, Barton couldn’t say for sure.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Wilmeth Bill Would Protect Businesses From Regulatory Overreach

Wilmeth Bill Would Protect Businesses From Regulatory Overreach

By Daniel Stefanski |

For over a decade, Arizona Legislative Republicans have not had to worry about a governor who may be inclined to use executive actions to unnecessarily regulate businesses around the state. They’re now advancing a bill to protect businesses in their districts from any new regulatory overreach that could be coming from the new Democrat Chief Executive on the Ninth Floor of Arizona’s Executive Tower.

This week, the Arizona House passed HB 2254, sponsored by Representative Justin Wilmeth. The bill “requires a proposed rule that will increase regulatory costs in excess of $500,000 within two years after implementation to be ratified by the Legislature,” according to the overview provided by the State House. 31 Republicans voted for the legislation, opposed by 27 Democrats. Two Democrats did not vote (Representatives Stacey Travers and Amish Shah).

Representative Wilmeth issued the following statement after his bill’s party-line passage in the House: “Burdensome regulations can lead to higher prices, fewer small businesses, and fewer jobs. HB 2254 says legislative approval would be required before high-cost rules could be implemented by the state. Executive agencies would have to get buy-in from the Legislature before they could move forward with major regulations. It will increase government accountability by strengthening oversight on unelected bureaucrats and help keep government regulations in check.”

Earlier last month, HB 2254 passed the House Government Committee with a partisan 5-4 vote and the House Rules Committee with a unanimous 8-0 vote.

Republican Legislators did not have to take precautions when it came to protecting Arizona businesses from the heavy and onerous hand of state government during the previous administration. Former Governor Doug Ducey led the way for the Grand Canyon State and the nation by “eliminat(ing) or improv(ing) over 3,365 regulations since 2015 – the equivalent of a $183 million tax cut.”

Representatives from the Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter, AZ Solar Energy Industries, and WM E Morris Institute for Justice opposed the bill’s passage through the House process. Stephen Shadegg from Americans for Prosperity Arizona supported this legislation.

HB 2254 now heads to the Arizona Senate. If it clears that chamber, it will await its fate at the hands of a governor who will have to decide whether to voluntarily allow a Republican-led legislature to hold her regulatory actions accountable to their oversight.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Legislators, Child Advocates Call On Hobbs To Bring Back Ducey’s Head Of DCS

Legislators, Child Advocates Call On Hobbs To Bring Back Ducey’s Head Of DCS

By Daniel Stefanski |

A powerful Senate Committee Chairman is encouraging Arizona’s Democrat Governor to show some urgency when it comes to re-nominating an individual to lead the Department of Child Safety (DCS), and he may have a solution as her office considers its next move in the matter.

On Thursday, Senator Jake Hoffman, Chairman of the Committee on Director Nominations, sent a letter to Governor Katie Hobbs, transmitting a letter his panel had received “from a coalition of frontline child welfare advocates and providers ‘respectfully requesting consideration for the reinstatement of former DCS Director Mike Faust.’” Senator Hoffman echoed “the pleadings of these dedicated child welfare professionals” in his own letter to the governor.

The letter that the Committee on Director Nominations had received was from a group of 21 individuals, representing licensed Group Home providers, bringing “well over 200 years of child welfare experience in Arizona.” The coalition wrote that “we share a mutual and tremendous respect for the past performance of former Director Faust and appreciate his rigor in holding all our agencies accountable when needed.” They praised Faust’s character, stating, “He is a man of his word and his transparency allowed for effective planning. Although his decisions were not always universally embraced, he could be trusted and he is a man of high moral character and integrity.”

It appears the Governor’s Office received the letter as well.

The coalition requested that the governor consider reinstating Faust to his past position of DCS Director.

Hoffman wrote in his accompanying letter to the governor that he believed “the coalition’s request to be a wise and prudent course of action” for Arizona. He also revealed that he had recently touched base with Faust “about his willingness to serve in this important role once again,” and that the former DCS Director “would be willing to discuss with (Hobbs) the possibility of his returning to lead the agency.”

The Director Nominations Chairman promised a “swift confirmation process should Mr. Faust be nominated to return in his role as the agency’s Director.”

All sides have admitted the importance of this agency and installing a competent individual who will do the work required on behalf of Arizona’s most vulnerable children. After Hobbs’ initial appointee, Matthew Stewart, was forced out of the nomination process by her office, she stated that DCS “has a critical mission protecting Arizona’s most vulnerable population, our children.” Chairman Hoffman wrote in his letter that “there are few executive agencies in Arizona as important as the Department of Child Safety.” And the coalition writing to Governor Hobbs asserted that “leading an agency of nearly 3,000 employees charged to protect and serve over 10,000 children is a daunting task that requires a unique and dedicated leader.”

The ball is now in the Governor’s Office when it comes to taking action on a vacant nomination for DCS Director as vulnerable Arizona children await direction and leadership from the state agency tasked with protecting their interests.

Hoffman’s committee, which was commissioned by Senate President Warren Petersen, has so far held two meetings to consider four of Governor Hobbs’ nominees for key positions in state agencies. The Committee on Director Nominations voted to recommend two of the individuals it has vetted, voted against recommending another, and held the fourth for future considerations. Governor Hobbs has been slow to transmit her nominations to the Arizona Senate for consent as is her constitutional obligation. The failed nomination last month of Matthew Stewart for DCS Director occurred independently of the committee process.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.