Housing needs in Pinal County are running behind high demand


CASA GRANDE — The housing supply in Pinal County is not keeping up with the population growth sparked by economic opportunities.

Danny Court, a senior economist at Elliott D. Pollack & Company in Scottsdale, has some predictions for Pinal County. He calls it a developing suburb for the Phoenix metro area but also a place with a growing workforce to meet growing opportunities.

Court estimated that by 2030 and 2040, one in four people moving to the greater Phoenix area will be moving to Pinal County.

“Not a lot of people even today are thinking about Pinal County as a major contributor, a major player in the state’s economy, and they’re still considered small potatoes,” Court said. “But there’s just been a dramatic change and shift even in the last three years.”

Pinal County is growing at an exponential rate. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2022, the county welcomed 14,075 people and in 2023, the county welcomed an additional 17,463 people — a 24% increase in year-to-year population growth.

Pinal was among the top 10 counties in the nation that experienced the highest increase in positive migration. It was the only county in the top 10 that was in the Western U.S. All other counties in the top 10 were in Florida, Texas or South Carolina.

Housing stock within the county is not growing at an equal rate. According to a study by Construction Coverage, between 2012 and 2022, Pinal County’s housing stock increased by 14.3% while its population grew by 19.8%. The median home price in Pinal County increased by 244.6% within that time.

Despite increases in population and demand for housing — an issue mirrored within the state as a whole — Pinal County is still seen as the more affordable option in central and southern Arizona and is able to draw new employees.

” People are drawn here by job opportunities that our elected officials have worked hard to bring, and it is paying off. But, with growth comes challenges for housing and transportation, said Pinal County Assessor, Douglas Wolf. “The more business that move here paying taxes helps keep the property taxes low for homeowners”, Wolf added.

But according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data database that is maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Pinal County as a whole is only marginally cheaper on average than the larger nearby metro areas.

And depending on the month, the median price in Pinal County was not cheaper than Tucson. The average list price for a home in Pinal County was $406,500 in February 2024. The same time in Tucson, the median was $400,000. In the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area, the price is consistently more expensive and the February 2024 median was $539,995.

Mike Bonafilia, 30, moved to an apartment in Casa Grande in October of last year. Bonafilia had just graduated from college in Massachusetts and found a job at Achieve Pinal Experience Corps. The organization works to help improve reading levels for second and third grade students. He initially signed a five-month lease.

“I always wanted to travel around the Southwest so I figured I might as well just live there, and I didn’t have family tying me down back in Massachusetts,” Bonafilia said.

At the end of February, Bonafilia moved to Gilbert because he wanted to be closer to a downtown area with restaurants and bars that were accessible within walking distance. However, he acknowledged he sacrificed a cheaper apartment and a shorter commute.

Municipalities in Pinal County do not have the diversification of housing options that the Phoenix or Tucson metro areas have. Maricopa and Casa Grande historically never had adequate apartment construction but are seeing that change only in recent years.

“These areas are just still relatively more affordable than the other major metros so they still have that tool in the toolbox where they can say, ‘hey this is a more affordable place,’” Court said. “But anyone who’s lived there the past five years has seen this, where if I made $50,000 a year I could be a homeowner, but now that’s not the case.”

Shelane Fleming, 31, also works at Achieve Pinal Experience Corps. She originally moved to Prescott in 2019 from the Pacific Islands. She then moved to Maricopa in August of last year. She now rents a house there with her husband and two kids.

“The cost of housing in Pinal County is pretty good compared to everywhere else,” Fleming said. “Maybe in a few years we’ll buy, but living in the community is pretty nice.”

Fleming also likes Maricopa since she travels around the county for work and it gives her access to Apache Junction or Casa Grande.

In 30 years, Court expects Casa Grande, Eloy and Coolidge to all have a population over 100,000.

Court mentioned the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which helps developers build multifamily residences that are rent-capped for lower-income groups, as being utilized for some projects in Maricopa and Casa Grande. Future diversification of housing options will help with affordability.

Court mentioned other options like market-rate apartments, build-to-rent housing, condos, townhomes and manufactured housing. The housing need will continue to diversify as population sizes increase and the available options need to reflect that. “You really need the entire slate of market rate housing to try to fill in those gaps,” Court said.

“They’re bringing in high-wage jobs but even a manufacturing facility is going to have starting positions that maybe make $20-25 an hour,” Court said. “They might not even want a home but they’re looking for an affordable place to rent.”

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