- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A dwindling occupancy rate for homes surrounding the University of Arizona has the campus and the city of Tucson looking to staff and faculty to fill the void.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild have been discussing a joint partnership to encourage university employees to reside near campus, UA spokeswoman Tannya Gaxiola said.

“We have graduate students renting and faculty and staff who are renting,” Gaxiola said. “Our role will be to promote this effort so folks are very aware of it.”

Houses that have typically been student rentals now sit vacant and unkempt. Some longtime homeowners think new and plush student housing complexes are behind the scarcity of college kids in the neighborhoods.

“It’s a two-sided thing,” said Colby Henley, who is on the board of his neighborhood association. “The towers addressed the pressure on the neighborhoods, but the flip side is it opened up some of these places and there’s more vacancies.”

One strategy that Hart and Rothschild are supporting is a mortgage assistance program administered by the city’s Industrial Development Authority, according to the Arizona Daily Star (https://bit.ly/1Vev0dt). While the program is open to any qualified homebuyer, it will be heavily promoted to UA employees along with a list of available properties near campus. The loan program is funded through 40 financial institutions.

UA hasn’t touted homeownership to employees before. But the concept isn’t unusual, according to Industrial Development Authority President Marilyn Robinson.

“There are examples of universities playing a role in helping turn around surrounding neighborhoods,” Robinson said. “They don’t want to be sitting in the midst of degrading neighborhoods.”

Rothschild, who lives near campus, has been getting Realtors to support the effort.

“Homeownership creates pride in a neighborhood, which results in nicely kept communities and a reduction in crime,” Rothschild said.

Homeownership in neighborhoods near campus has fallen sharply in the past 15 years. The Drachman Institute, the research arm of UA’s architecture college, found the owner-occupancy rate in about a dozen neighborhoods bordering the university was approximately 42 percent. In some cases, it was 10 percent or less.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Star, https://www.tucson.com

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