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More students push up housing costs in Flagstaff, Arizona

Developments like this one are sprouting up all over Flagstaff. Laurel Morales/Marketplace

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When Matt and Olivia McReynolds met as students at Northern Arizona University more than a decade ago, the Flagstaff population was around 60,000 people. Since then, 10,000 more people have moved here. 

“I remember the sticker shock of paying $900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment,” Matt said.

“And you had to sell your Isuzu Trooper, and I had to get a job and work all night,” Olivia quickly added.

They moved away and came back twice because they love the mountains. In 2008, the average rent was $850 a month. Today it’s $1,470. 

“I’m an attorney and I make decent money,” Matt said. “And it’s puzzling that despite that, this is what we’re able to afford in Flagstaff.” 

Matt and Olivia McReynolds pay $1,600 for a 500-square-foot apartment in Flagstaff.

“This” is a tiny two-bedroom rental. Sitters on the living room love seat can see almost the entire apartment.

“We are around 500 square feet, and we’re paying over $1,600 a month,” Matt said. 

Once a quiet college town in the mountains, Flagstaff has become a bustling city. The state of Arizona wants to increase Northern Arizona University enrollment to 35,000 students by 2025 to make up for budget cuts. The school has already doubled in size over the last decade, and many Flagstaff locals are feeling the growing pains.

In addition to home prices, locals also gripe about traffic, parking and the threat of losing the quintessential charm that makes Flagstaff unique.

Since the recession, Arizona lawmakers have cut university funding — more than any other state — to close the budget gap.

“Today 10 years on, states are spending $7 billion less on higher education than they were prior to the recession,” said Mike Mitchell, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “If you look at states with the largest cuts in per-student higher education, Arizona is the only state that is above 50 percent at 55.7 percent in state cuts to higher education. The next closest is Louisiana at 40 percent per student.”

A proposition on the November ballot would expand the hours and frequency of public transportation. If approved, NAU would provide bus passes for students.

Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, an alumna of NAU, lives in a home built by her grandfather just three blocks from campus, so she has to deal with students partying at all hours. But she said she couldn’t afford to move if she wanted to. 

“Because with the growth of the university came the ridiculous prices for the housing in this city with absolutely no relief,” Evans said.

Some community members have come up with solutions to mitigate the growth, ideas like building a satellite campus, buying more buses and encouraging students to get involved in the community, so they care about it. 

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