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A resort company walks into a small town: Cottonwood's rental crisis is no joke

Cottonwood residents say they've been struggling to find a place to live because a vacation resort is buying up properties for its employees.

COTTONWOOD, Ariz. —  

Melany Walton had thought Cottonwood would be the perfect place for her to spend her retirement years.  

When she decided to move from California to the small Arizona town 12 years ago, she expected her costs of living to be cheaper. 

And for a while, they were. 

Walton's rent for her three-bedroom home was significantly cheaper than the prices she might have expected back in the Golden State.

But the housing situation in Cottonwood has started to change and Walton's worried she might soon end up homeless. 

 "There's not a lot of available to rent," the 72-year-old resident said. "I still don't have a place to go. It's getting more desperate." 

Walton's predicament began earlier this summer after she received a notice that her home had been bought by The Enchantment, a luxurious resort located about 20 miles away in Sedona. 

The disabled retiree thought the change of ownership might result in her rent getting raised. But the new owners didn't want more of Walton's money: They wanted her out. 

The resort is giving Walton until the end of August to find a new place to live and she hasn't had luck finding another rental she can afford solely with her Social Security funds.

"It's very depressing," she told 12News. "At my age, I didn't think I was going to have to move again."

'It's ruining the town'

Walton is not the only tenant in Cottonwood who has been struggling. 

The Enchantment has bought at least 28 units in the Cottonwood area to house its employees, which the resort's representatives say is needed to provide relief to resort workers who can't find housing of their own.

The resort says it has simply bought properties that were listed for sale in order to "render additional aid and support for employees."

But locals say the Enchantment issue is only one piece of a much broader issue that's been recently affecting their community -- a major lack of affordable housing. 

A shrinking supply and rising prices have put some tenants in a difficult dilemma and some feel it's unfair for a company in another city to buy up properties on their turf. 

"It's ruining the town," said Ken Wood, a Cottonwood resident for nearly 40 years. "It's sad to hear what's going on." 

Wood owns a moving company and says he's been getting many desperate phone calls from locals who don't know where to go. 

"I have never seen something like this," Wood added.

Representatives for Enchantment say they had to look for housing in neighboring communities due to a shortage of affordable homes and apartments in Sedona.

Cottonwood is a rural town of about 12,000 residents located in Yavapai County that doesn't have an abundance of housing listed on the market. A quick search on the website Zillow only yields a handful of available properties to rent and most are considered beyond the price range of locals who've been living in Cottonwood for years. 

April Montgomery's daughter has had to resort to living in an RV on her mother's property after failing to find any affordable place to live in Cottonwood. 

Like Walton, Montgomery's daughter got a notice earlier this year warning her that she and her children had to vacate their property after it was bought by Enchantment. 

Now Montgomery's daughter is being asked to pay up to $2,500 per month for the same type of home she had been renting before and residents in Cottonwood are not used to seeing rents at that price level. 

"We're not living in the Silicon Valley, this is just Cottonwood," Montgomery said.

Credit: April Montgomery
A letter April Montgomery's daughter received earlier this year from The Enchantment resort in Sedona.

'Where are we all going to go?'

The housing situation in Cottonwood has gotten so dire that it's forced some locals to leave the community altogether. 

Barbara Reed has recently relocated to Florida after her landlord decided to move back into the three-bedroom unit she had been renting. 

She tried to find another place in Cottonwood but eventually decided she was probably better off moving across the country. 

"There's nothing available at all," Reed said.

Residents throughout Arizona have been feeling the ramifications of the state's housing crisis for several months. A spike in demand and limited supply has been quickly elevating prices while wages have not kept pace with the rising costs. 

According to a study by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Arizonans must earn at least $23.44 per hour or work 73 hours per week on the state's minimum wage to afford the average cost of a two-bedroom rental.

But the housing crisis can be even more burdensome in Arizona's rural communities, where home developers may not be as eager to build and the socio-economic conditions may not be as great as in the metro areas.

The most recent census statistics show a higher percentage of Cottonwood residents live in poverty compared to the national and statewide percentages and the city's median household income is significantly less than Arizona's average.

Lisa Sanchez was busy working two jobs when she found out her rental was being bought by The Enchantment earlier this summer. She didn't have much time to ask questions before discovering she and her college-age son would soon have to find a new residence.

She spent days stressing and losing sleep before Sanchez found a place for herself, but she still worries about her neighbors who haven't been as lucky in finding another rental.

"Where are we all going to go," asked Sanchez, whose family has deep roots in Cottonwood going back several generations.

Sanchez says she's never experienced a housing predicament quite like this before and feels it's unfair her community is being asked to forcibly go someplace else. 

"Our whole world has just been turned upside down," she said.

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