OPINION: Gentrification in Tucson
Hotel Congress, located downtown on the corner of Toole Avenue and Congress Street, remains a historic landmark and community hub of Tucson. Located across from the Rialto Theater, Hotel Congress houses new and local artists’ concert venues as well as a cafe and a handful of bars.
Over the years, it’s really seems like the university and its surroundings have changed drastically. The site of the new luxury high-rise buildings used to be just a parking lot in my memory. I remember when that’s all it was. I remember when downtown was a mess and no one wanted to go there. Now, it’s in the process of being gentrified.
These new luxury apartments are not cheap to live in at all. The average per capita income in Tucson is $21,684, according to the United States Census Bureau. The corresponding poverty rate is 24.1 percent, one of the highest in the nation. The average cost of an 752-square-foot, two-bedroom and two-bathroom luxury apartment like the Hub starts at $1275 a month per person. In contrast, apartments with the same amount of rooms and a half bathroom cost half that amount.
So, it’s really obvious that these luxury apartments are not for the benefit of residents of Tucson unless they are in an upper income bracket. However, where does this leave the future of the institution? According to a USA Today article, Arizona universities, and the UA in particular, have really beefed up recruiting in other states like California. According to the university’s fall enrollment highlights, 46.6 percent of students were non-residents from other states.
In 2013, when that same USA Today article was published, it was 31 percent. For the record, out-of-state students pay almost three times the tuition Arizona residents do. I can say as a Tucson resident that most people are unhappy with how downtown and the surrounding UA areas are rising in price. The average Tucson resident is being priced out of these locations, even if their family has lived there for generations. The average middle-class student cannot afford rent in a luxury high rise apartment. To be quite frank, they don’t even fit with the aesthetic or mood of the city at all.
In a state that doesn’t value education at all, it’s impressive the university has managed to keep its costs so low for Arizona residents. It seems to be at the cost — and sometimes to the detriment — of out-of-state students. In my view, that is the main reason why the city has been presented more nicely over the past three or four years. It started with the revitalization of downtown, then the Sunlink Streetcar, and then the building of these student-housing blocks. For the record, I am one of those who believes this city needs more development to keep the talent pool we have recruited to stay here.
Only about 26 percent of the city holds a bachelor’s degree. Is the gentrification that is happening in Tucson helping or hurting this city? Is gentrifying old neighborhoods and building luxury apartments only good for the present, or will it sustain the future? At the moment, it seems like it’s only a temporary solution to a growing problem in America.
While I and many other lifelong Tucson residents are ecstatic development is finally occurring, I don’t think this is what anyone envisioned for the future. However, the future is here, it’s happening, and the only thing we can do now is hope Tucson stays affordable for those who plan on staying here, whether they attend the university or not.
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