Time for Action: How community deals with workforce housing shortage will determine future of beloved hometown atmosphere

We are at a crossroads.

It’s time to decide whether Wickenburg will become primarily a retirement community with a commuting workforce, or if it will actively pursue development which fosters resident workers and their families. If a noticeable number of affordable homes are not built soon, the decision will be made.

“Workforce housing” has been a topic of discussion around the community for several years. The number of affluent-to-wealthy retirees who have flooded to the area, and a noticeable lack of new construction, have driven the housing market to a point that young adults struggle to find something affordable to rent or buy. Likewise, mid-level earners working in Wickenburg are often pushed out of the market by high prices, or the time it takes to obtain financing. Several neighborhoods in Wickenburg do have affordable homes, but are restricted to residents 55 or older. Where does that leave the working class – singles, couples and families?

Wickenburg is not the only community with this conundrum. The pressure is being felt all over our region as Californians move away from wildfires and over-regulation; and folks from the northwestern states flock here to enjoy roping, golf, pickleball and other fair-weather activities; and our friends from the Midwest are more plentiful than ever as they escape harsh winters. It’s what we’ve been asking for – success in bringing people to our area to bolster the economy.

But, for all the positives, there are drawbacks to be addressed. How the community solves these issues will without a doubt determine what kind of a town it will be 10, 20, 30, 50 years from now.

Most of us love Wickenburg because it feels like a hometown. People know one another. We care about one another. We have a collective, common history. Those who have more recently moved here don’t have that long-standing background knowledge or shared experiences with the lifetime residents, but they feel that atmosphere and are drawn to it. Over time, they too become part of that fabric that holds us together as a community.

The foundation of this community and its atmosphere is working class families. Thirty years ago and further back, the bulk of Wickenburg’s residents were folks who worked in town or owned businesses here and were raising families. Many of the retirees had lived and worked here for much of their lives and had grandkids who lived on Oxbow, Swilling or another neighborhood street.

Now, those grandkids are adults, second, third or fourth generation residents, who own businesses, manage businesses, teach school or work for town government.

A lot of long-term residents are the drivers of our culture – the very thing that makes Wickenburg attractive to the outside world. Many of them care for this community because of what they can do for it, ahead of what it can offer them.

It’s their hometown.

Looking down the road 10 years from now, if the housing market continues to eliminate mid-level wage earners, the number of families who call Wickenburg home will continue to decline. The number of people who value Wickenburg primarily as a second home will continue to increase, and that foundation of community will splinter.

It’s already happening.  The fabric of our community is changing, and Wickenburg is losing a very important asset. Many, many workers commute from Congress, Yarnell, Forepaugh, Morristown and the Valley.  How many of them would rather live in Wickenburg with their families if they could find an affordable place?  We should and will continue to welcome new residents and weave them into our current activities and our history, but without preserving and fostering a continued firm foundation of longtime and lifelong residents, Wickenburg is destined, like other small towns who cater to mostly one sector, to lose the very thing we all love the most – our hometown atmosphere.

It’s time for more than talk. Town leadership is considering conducting a needs assessment. It should be done immediately. We urge developers to move now on some of the opportunities in front of them. We urge the Town of Wickenburg to work with those developers to ensure standards of aesthetics, safety and infrastructure are met, while providing friendly and timely service for all the permitting and other necessary processes.

“If you build it, they will come” is an understatement.

Build it. The need is already here.

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