Tom Simplot was named president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association (AMA) in July 2008. The longtime Phoenix resident has served on the Phoenix City Council, president of the Maricopa County Board of Health, Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority, as chair of the Phoenix Historic Preservation Committee and was a member of the Phoenix Housing Commission. He has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and a law degree from the University of Iowa.

The industry is seeing a cultural paradigm shift in the multihousing sector. How is that manifesting in Arizona?
The Great Recession created a cultural shift in consumer attitudes about a lot of things: saving money, spending within your means and being flexible to move when needed. Many home buyers discovered that owning a home was not a cash machine and that ownership can be an anchor on your lifestyle and a drain on your wallet. Very few apartment units were built in Arizona between 2009 and 2011, and we actually lost rental units during that time period (due to obsolescence and condo conversions, etc.). To keep up with this change in lifestyle and future growth, apartment developers are building at a pace not seen since the early 2000s, and occupancy rates are near their highest ever.

I’ve heard some people are concerned that with the increased interest in multihousing living preferences that the single-family home/residential market will be hurt and the rest of the real estate industry will be harmed in the process. How is the industry currently adapting to accommodate these changes?
Developers adapt to market conditions or they go out of business. A large number of foreclosed single-family homes were put into the rental market, and we have a large number of rental condominiums. Developers who turned to condo-conversions 10 years ago might now be building apartments. If anything, home builders learned that it was not prudent to have so much land in inventory and to build far fewer speculative homes. There will always be a large market for single-family homes, and what we are now building are lifestyle choices for the consumer.

The way Phoenix manages its apartments (through REITs, investment firms) differs from other major cities, such as L.A. How is that to our advantage/disadvantage given the market right now?
Metro Phoenix is a large market, and therefore has a large number of national and international apartment management companies. Just 20 years ago, most apartments in Arizona were locally owned and managed by small companies. The presence of REITS and publicly traded companies translates into more equity for future development, and has also transformed residential property management into a profession. As the industry has become more sophisticated, our residents have felt the difference in a positive way.

What kind of legislative decisions have affected the AMA and its members? Are there any issues that will need to be addressed in the near future?
In recent years, the legislature has addressed several key issues for the apartment industry. This past year was the expansion of the Arizona Department of Real Estate Advisory Board to include a multi-family representative. The legislature has also addressed property rights issues, and even the recent sales tax reform will provide a tremendous regulatory improvement for the industry, and ultimately, residents.

Managing hundreds, if not thousands, of apartment units across the state requires consistent laws, a transparent bureaucracy and uniform enforcement. When one city or justice of the peace interprets an ordinance in a unique manner, it causes confusion to residents and owners alike. Successful businesses want to play by the rules, and our goal is to help create a level playing field.

What kind of trends are you seeing within the sector (in what ways is Arizona still leading the way in recovery)?
It seems that Baby Boomers and Millennials both love freedom of choice and living in a more urban environment. Walkability is important as are nearby restaurants, nightlife choices and amenities within the community. Even our suburban cities have adopted this lifestyle choice, and we see new apartments in areas that historically only wanted single-family homes. The day of living in a “McMansion” is over for many people, and downsizing is key. New apartment communities reflect this as do older communities which have upgraded to “retro chic.” In Central Phoenix, communities built mid-century are now as popular as mid-century homes. Residents want something unique yet comfortable, and they don’t need excess square footage to accomplish that.