Living on the Edge: Factors of Persistent Housing Insecurity in Southern Arizona

Brian Mayer, Ph.D., Professor, School of Sociology, University of Arizona
Erin Heinz, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Sociology, University of Arizona
Jailyn Sloane, School of Sociology, University of Arizona

Pinpoint Shadow  Living on the Edge: Factors of Persistent Housing Insecurity in Southern Arizona

The economic and financial fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic significantly exacerbated an ongoing affordable housing crisis in Southern Arizona. At the height of the pandemic, some 10-15% of rental households across Arizona had fallen behind on their rent. Yet despite signs of economic recovery beginning to show in 2023, eviction filings in Pima County have rebounded to their pre-pandemic levels following a moratorium on new filings enacted by the federal government. Even after two years of federal rental and utility assistance provided to at-risk rental households, a significant number of households in Southern Arizona are at risk of losing their housing just as the state and national economy is poised to emerge from the pandemic. For these housing insecure individuals and families, the impact of the pandemic has not only limited their ability to afford rising rents and utility bills; multiple other intersecting social factors such as unemployment, food insecurity, poor health, and childcare burdens limit their capacity to participate equally in a full recovery. Many residents are struggling to “get by” each month (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage of Households "Getting By" Financially Each Month

Living on the Edge Figure 1 V2

To assess the social and economic landscape of housing insecurity in Southern Arizona, we utilize unique survey data on low-income households in Southern Arizona collected by the 2022 Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop. Formed in 2015, the Workshop was created to serve as a community-engaged undergraduate research experience in partnership with the City of Tucson and the nonprofit community. In the fall of 2022, the Workshop partnered with Pima County’s Department of Community and Workforce Development to interview 266 renter households experiencing housing insecurity due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This white paper summarizes data collected by the 2022 Poverty in Tucson Field Workshop which reveals a troubling pattern of social and economic vulnerabilities that persist despite the temporary financial assistance provided to at-risk renters in Pima County.

Key Findings & Contributions

  • As the pandemic began to recede, rising rents and consumer inflation significantly outpaced any gains in workplace wages and contributed to significant housing overburden and eviction filings in Pima County.
  • Despite benefiting from eviction prevention assistance from Pima County in 2022, only 42% of survey participants believed that they would be able to independently pay their rent in 2023.
  • Over half (66%) of households lived in crowded conditions due to financial strain and 22% reported living in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in their rental housing.
  • Nearly half of all households surveyed (42%) predicted that they would be unable to come up with $500 if faced with an emergency situation such as an unexpected medical bill, car trouble, or family need.
  • In addition to being significantly financially insecure, multiple intersecting social vulnerabilities were observed including: 58% of households reporting high levels of food insecurity, 49% of households reporting high levels of stress, and households with parents spending more than double the recommended 7% of household expenditures for monthly childcare.


Housing insecure households in Southern Arizona are living in a precarious position. Limited by the low supply of affordable housing, poor credit histories, and multi-layered financial, health, and employment situations, thousands of rental households are at the precipice of becoming homeless. The eviction rental assistance available to at-risk households during the pandemic provided an important, albeit temporary, social safety net that kept some 30,000 households safely housed. Absent such eviction prevention programs, it is likely that a substantial number of these vulnerable households will once again be facing life on the street. Housing burdens are particularly heavy for those in poverty or extreme poverty, with stagnant household incomes being absorbed by ever-increasing rent.

Figure 2: Percent of Household Monthly Income Spent on Rent

Living on the Edge Figure 2 V2

In a state with strict legislation prohibiting municipalities from enacting critical rent control policies, it is imperative that we identify regional opportunities to create more affordable housing opportunities while supporting rental households to become financially stable. The goal of this white paper is to provide policymakers and housing advocates with evidence of the ongoing social and financial crisis facing low-income renters in Southern Arizona. Future policy decisions at the state, county, and municipal level should consider the intersecting social vulnerabilities faced by low-income renters and identify opportunities to strengthen the social safety net, including housing assistance, such that all residents can equally participate in economic recovery and prosperity.