Rising Tucson rents hitting schools amid housing crisis

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Rising rents in Tucson are pushing families out of apartment complexes and disrupting children's school year, an analysis has found.

Mapping by the Arizona Daily Star shows that two school districts — Tucson Unified and Amphitheater Unified — have been hardest hit by evictions. Those evictions are a reflection of Tucson’s housing crisis for lower-income residents.

In some neighborhoods, when rents rise quickly in large rental complexes near a school, several students might suddenly have to leave their classrooms at once.

Over the last year, the cost for a rental unit in Tucson increased by an average of $53 per month, though some apartment complexes saw rent increases in the hundreds.

John B. Wright Elementary is one school that has a high transient population, in part because the rents are going up near the school. Principal Deanna Campos says the school has a 50% mobility rate, which means half the student body transitions during the school year, either leaving the school or starting at the school.

Price increases have been building for a while. In 2014, for example, the average monthly rent in Tucson was just under $640. By the first quarter of 2019, it had jumped to just below $800. By the third quarter of last year, it was up to $820, according to data from Picor Commercial Real Estate Services.

Why the boom? Out-of-state buyers are purchasing countless properties.

Big employers like Caterpillar, Hexagon Mining, and Amazon, along with the Raytheon Missile Systems’ expansion, have improved Tucson’s economy and added higher-paying jobs to the marketplace, said Picor’s Allan Mendelsberg.

What’s happening with the apartment market, and what’s available for families, all funnels back to that, he said.

“The strengthening economy is giving investors the willingness to improve properties and take them to the next level,” he said.

About 80% of the investors are from out of state. They are looking to Tucson because there’s a better return on investments.

So many rental properties have been bought out in recent years that the demand is now exceeding the supply, Mendelsberg said.

The change is displacing families, who sometimes are told they had two months to move after properties have been sold.

Christina Moreland found such a notice in late November, the day she came home from the hospital after giving birth ten weeks early to twins. The newborns were still in the hospital. The apartment complex’s new owners gave similar notices to other tenants when ready to remodel any occupied unit.

“It’s pretty rough,” Moreland said.

She and her boyfriend have until Jan. 31 to find a new place for them, the premature twins, a rambunctious 3-year-old and Moreland’s nephew who lives with her and is in fifth grade at Sewell Elementary, less than a mile away.

Moreland is concerned switching schools in the middle of the year will affect her nephew's ability to learn and set him behind his peers.

So far, seven Sewell students who lived in the apartment building have left the school. Another 15 students, including Jaden, live in the complex, according to Tucson Unified.

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