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In an Oasis, This Arizona City Sees Property Rights as a Mirage

Amanda Root has lived in the Cloud 9 area of Sierra Vista, Arizona, for more than 20 years on a small lot she owns free and clear. Amanda originally lived in a mobile home but lost it to a fire in 2016, leaving her temporarily homeless. Fortunately, friends gave her a trailer that she has lived in ever since. 

Like a handful of her neighbors who also live in trailer homes in Cloud 9, Amanda is grateful to have a safe, affordable option that allows her to live in peace and comfort. And Amanda takes great care of her property—it is well maintained and loved, in contrast to the many abandoned mobile homes around Cloud 9. 

But Amanda’s peace ended abruptly in July 2020, when she and several other Cloud 9 residents received notices from Sierra Vista ordering them to move their trailer homes within 30 days. There would be no hearing and no right to appeal. What’s worse, the city did not target the mobile homes in Cloud 9 that were rundown or deserted—it targeted only the trailer homes it classified as “RVs.” 

Sierra Vista does not claim that these homes are unsafe for their residents or dangerous to the neighborhood. Rather, its problem is that they are simply in the wrong part of Cloud 9. RVs are zoned to be in one part of Cloud 9 but not the part that Amanda and her neighbors live in. In short, Amanda could live in her home just down the street on property she rents from someone else, but she is not allowed to live in that same home on her own property.

Restrictive zoning laws like Sierra Vista’s threaten to drive people of modest means into homelessness and are widely recognized as one of the biggest obstacles to the creation of affordable housing. Amanda, like many other residents of Cloud 9, lives on a fixed income and cannot afford to move, let alone to buy a new home. Evicting people from the only homes they can afford simply to adhere to an arbitrary zoning provision is cruel and irrational. 

In August 2020, IJ informed Sierra Vista that its order violates the rights of property owners and residents. The city also received intense criticism from the public and media. So the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to consider an amendment to the zoning code that would have allowed Amanda and other residents to continue living in their homes. But the City Council rejected the amendment and chose to enforce its eviction notices.

Sierra Vista’s zoning laws are arbitrary and lack any legitimate health and safety rationale. Under the Arizona Constitution, the government cannot enforce them. The state constitution also ensures that cities cannot order people from their homes without affording them basic due process like a judicial hearing or appeal. Property rights are especially important for people with limited financial means and political influence, like Amanda and her neighbors. They joined with IJ to fight for a victory in Sierra Vista that will vindicate those rights—and save their homes.

John Wrench is an IJ Constitutional Law Fellow.

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