Solutions to Sedona’s housing underway



December 2, 2022


Panoramic view of Sedona surrounded by the red stone mountainsDefining sustainability can be elusive since the concept touches almost every aspect of community life — fulfilling today’s needs without compromising the future while balancing economic growth, environmental care and social well-being.

Nevertheless, sustainability is becoming part of our mindset as Sedona increasingly explores opportunities to create a more balanced, livable city. Recently, two local elected bodies, the city of Sedona and the Sedona Oak Creek School District acted decisively on a pressing a sustainability issue — housing affordability.

The influx of short-term rentals has reduced housing options for Sedonans, and continually rising prices make purchasing a home unaffordable for most. Employers are having a difficult time finding and keeping workers, which in turn is affecting Sedona’s economy.

The Sustainable Tourism Plan acknowledges this, calling for “innovative approaches to employee housing.” Sedona is now showing it can do that.

Last week, the City Council agreed to purchase the abandoned Sedona Cultural Park from a private developer for $20 million. Though there are no concrete plans, the sense among the council and city management leans toward creating workforce housing on the 41-acre site. In addition, the city will sell $10.2 million in bonds to help cover the purchase price.

This is a commendable step in tackling an issue that defies an easy solution. Though a single project by no means solves the problem, the purchase is a recognition by the city that direct action is appropriate and necessary. It is a more aggressive move than past initiatives, such as the affordable housing fund, the down payment assistance program for city employees, and last year’s partnership with Sunset Lofts for workforce apartments on Sunset Drive.

The $10.2 million in bonds will be repaid by excise taxes on products such as gasoline and alcohol, to which tourists contribute significantly. Also, with tourism providing Sedona with millions in sales and bed tax revenues we would not otherwise receive, it is easy to see that most cities our size could probably only afford such a purchase with major budget adjustments. As it stands, the annual repayment on the 15-year bonds will be just over $900,000, deemed “very affordable” by city bond expert Mark Reader.

It is a sign of our economic complexity that tourism can contribute to and help alleviate a sustainability issue such as housing.

Last month, the Sedona Oak Creek School District Board approved a plan to convert Building C at the closed Big Park School into eight to ten 1,000 SF studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments for teachers. District officials say the housing crunch has forced new teachers to live in other teachers’ homes, leave mid-year when tentative housing arrangements fall apart, or cancel their contracts after being unable to find housing at all. Even Superintendent Dennis Dearden had to live in a motel in Cottonwood when he first took the job.

Creative thinking in the district and the participation of the Maher family, long-time public-school supporters, led to this significant step. The Maher’s will lease Building C, redevelop it as apartment housing, rent, manage and maintain the property until they recover their costs without interest, then

As we enter this festive time of year, such uplifting news is welcome. Our city council and city management, school board and staff, and Basil and Mimi Maher deserve our thanks and gratitude.

Michelle Conway, President/CEO
Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau