Phoenix Shrinking? As Usual, the Republic’s Logic is Flawed

avatarthumbnail.jpgIn this morning’s Arizona Republic, there was a front page article about an apparent decline in Phoenix’s population.  And as with almost everything that the Republic has written about real estate, the logic’s severely flawed.

(My personal favorite example of the Republic’s failure to allow common sense to get in the way of earnestness remains the couple angry that they didn’t receive cash back on their purchase as the back end of a loan fraud scheme.)

Setting aside the most obvious possible cause for a decline in the population of the city proper – a migration to the suburbs caused by factors up to and including the “drive until you qualify” method of real esttae purchase – there are problems with other measures being used as well:

Foreclosures: Bank repossessions of homes continue to increase. The key areas of decline are in the western part of the city. Phoenix overall had a staggering 534 percent increase in foreclosures in the first half of 2008, or an increase of about 5,000 additional homes in foreclosure compared with the first half of 2007. Figures for the last half of the year are not yet available.

So let’s say someone stops making payments and the bank takes back their home. What happens to these people? According to the above logic, they either vaporize or evacuate the state. Forgive me for going out on a limb, but isn’t it possible these one-time owners now are renters? And isn’t it equally possible that they’re still in Phoenix? Or does it really seem more plausible that they moved to Fargo once the bank foreclosed.

Water: The number of water-using accounts fell about 5,600 from fiscal 2007-08 to 2008-09. The number of accounts using no water almost doubled, on average, meaning those homes still have water connections but are probably empty.

Tracking population by water hookups is “a good way of watching for population change,” said Steve Doig, a journalism professor at Arizona State University who used a similar method to track the return of people to southern Florida after Hurricane Andrew.

Plausible. At the same time, most apartment complexes and condos in the Valley have centralized water billing. Which is to say the tenant doesn’t open a new account; the water is handled by either the homeowners’ association or the apartment complex.

(And how did a journalism professor become an expert in population tracking? Not that there was anything wrong with the several journalism professors I once had …)

Buried in the story is the possibility that the population hasn’t left the state but simply has moved from Phoenix to the suburbs.

Having said this, it’s entirely possible that the population in Phoenix had declined. I’m not going to argue that point one way or the other. Perhaps the objection to the story comes from my own filter where I rarely regard Phoenix as just Phoenix but rather than anchor of the larger Valley of the Sun.

In any event, the entire thing seems somewhat less newsworthy than it was portrayed … unless you’re a Phoenix city official trying to work out this coming year’s budget.

[tags]Phoenix real estate[/tags]

Jonathan Dalton

Jonathan Dalton is a 40-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at