Attracting and Supporting a Family Population in Prescott
By Britt Flores and Joe Howard
I’m excited this month to partner with a writing friend and colleague, Britt Flores, who you may recognize as a Daily Courier column writer. Britt and her husband are PUSD parents with a second grader at Lincoln and a preschool student at PUSD’s Discovery Gardens.
I recently met Britt and realized that she and her family are a perfect example of a topic that I have brought up many times in the Prescott community, as well as in this very column. This is the concern that PUSD and our community have lost families over the past decade due to tough housing and job markets. I have been more and more hopeful as community leaders been stepping up to consider this issue and wrapping our heads around how we can attract, support and sustain a family population in the Prescott area.
I asked Britt to weigh in on this topic by asking:
What challenges do families face as they locate in the Prescott area?
Thanks for having me, Joe – this is a topic that my husband and I are eager to share about. One of the biggest challenges we faced when moving here was finding and keeping a decent wage. Although it was easy for me to find restaurant work, something I did when I was in my 20’s, it was very difficult for either of us to find work in our actual fields. I come from 20 years of marketing and editorial experience, raised in private schools and went to college twice. My husband has over 25 years in the legal industry a private education as well as college and is a former Marine. When we moved here with our skillset we weren’t prepared for the lack of professional jobs and the horrifying, poverty level wages that came with the same responsibilities of a 6-figure salaried job anywhere else. We were fortunate that I found waitressing work, and for a little while our gluten-free baking business supported us while my husband continued hunted professional work. However, the town isn’t large enough to support niche “mom and pops” without either the mom or pop or both parents INCLUDING the grandparents having other jobs or contributing financially. I mean, look at the mall! Eventually, despite serious fandom at the Prescott Farmer’s Market and being in 6 different restaurants and a hotel, our business had to close. We were able to keep one client, Farm Provisions on Montezuma – a partnership for which we are grateful. At the same time, my husband through the help of a former gluten-free baking customer, was able to find his dream job with an established company in town, who gave him a fair chance to work hard and offered to pay him responsibly. It took him 17 months to find employment with a wage that could support a family, not just a single person and maybe a hamster. During those 17 months, it took the support of both sets of grandparents to be able to keep us here. We didn’t want to give up, move back to what we ran from and uproot our kids again and frankly, we had nowhere to go “back” to. It was scary. Christmas came and we were down to our last dollars. Hopefully our kids will never know how bad it was. At least there was a lot of beautiful snow to look at last year and we did make it through, but some families don’t have the help we did and our heart breaks for them.
What did your family specifically struggle with and what did you find helpful as you worked to get a start here?
One of the other larger issues we struggled with here, was social prejudice. Coming from California, we received a lot of polite smiles, but it was a very small pocket of people that made us feel welcome. Most people assumed that we carried the “Crazy California” stigma with us, and even though there are some minorities in this town, for the most part, in this part of Arizona, the minorities are truly the minorities. One of the people who made us feel like we were doing the right thing by moving here and going to be “OK” was Mrs. Hughes, Principal of Lincoln School. From before our move, she was literally a life-raft to us, helping us transition our kids. She talked with me on the phone for an hour and a half, told me how to fill out the paperwork, carefully placed our daughter in the correct grade, and was there for us the very first day, in person to hold our girl as she wailed, terrified on her first day. It was quite emotional, and we still tear up about the experience, two years later. We had moved here on the 28th of July and school started August 3rd. We had time enough to just unpack a few boxes and orient ourselves to where the school and grocery stores were, before having to blindly leave our daughter in the care of public school faculty – strangers we had never met before in a town where we had zero history. Those first days here were scary.
What about Prescott was worth the sacrifice you made to make it here?
We moved from a beautiful town in SoCal called Sierra Madre. If you google it, it looks a LOT like Prescott. It’s a mountain town that closes down on Halloween, much like Mt. Vernon. We had actual sidewalks and a Starbucks and restaurants within a 5-minute walk. My parent’s business, a Kenpo Karate dojo, was in town across from the quaint village clock tower. From the outside looking in, life looked to be as pretty and perfect as a snow globe village. So, what went wrong?
Let’s talk about housing first. An average 800 sq. ft., 1 bed, 1 bath home will cost you about $900,000.00 – that is with faulty wiring, plumbing from the turn of the century and a roof that a baby could blow down. There was no way we could afford to buy the homes in the neighborhoods we grew up in. We rented a little house for $1875.00 per month. It had three bedrooms, two baths, was infested with rats that the landlord wouldn’t fix, a roof that grew moss, black mold in the bathrooms, and a yard covered in black widow spiders and only half of the house had heat. When we asked for some help with the pests, our landlord showed up with “rodent sticky paper” and told us if that wasn’t enough, to move somewhere else.
We had neighbors directly behind us in an “add-on” rental that traveled in and out of their driveways at all hours of the day. At any given hour of the afternoon someone HAD to have their lawn cut. There literally was never any silence. Strangers slept in their cars across the street from us because they couldn’t afford the rent in SoCal, and every time I went to the grocery store, and I mean every time, I was nearly mugged by the homeless, who were desperate for money, food and attention. There weren’t every any clouds. We didn’t have seasons, we had a constant, smoggy marine layer of air and maybe one or two days of cold weather and that was it. We would go MONTHS without rain, and we weren’t allowed to water our plants or take long showers unless we wanted a ticket from the police or the city. We were always sick. Because of the filthy air and old houses, everyone had sinus/lung issues.
My husband worked 7 days a week, 14 hours a day. I worked three jobs and homeschooled our oldest because we couldn’t afford private school and we didn’t want our kid getting shot or mugged in public school. Every single cent we made went straight into ridiculously high utilities and basic cost of living. We’ve been married 9 years and we’ve never taken a vacation, never been camping, we could barely afford our wedding! We were making it work however, until my husband lost his overtime due to budget cuts at his law firm. At the same time, we found we were expecting another baby – I had to go on bedrest, so we had no choice but to declare bankruptcy. We managed to hang on another year until the bottom truly fell out and we were faced with moving in with my in-laws or my parents, neither of which had room for us. My folks had managed to buy a small place here. In a whirlwind of generosity, fear, God’s grace and dumb luck, we managed to cash in our 401K, of which my husband had worked for 10 years, take the tax penalty and move here. I tell people we arrived during the monsoons on the wings of a Thunderbird. It was a huge leap of faith…and we are happy, probably the happiest we’ve been, but it literally took all we had and a little more to flee the craziness of California and land here.
These days, 2 years later, our kids are thriving and we’ve finally, found “our people” as well as employment in our fields. The weather is beautiful and there IS peace and quiet, clean air and amazing education in the PUSD for our kids. What we most love about being here is the wide-open space. No-one should have to grow up surrounded by concrete and loud neighbors yelling through paper thin, rat infested walls. We are grateful to be here and contribute positively to the community!
What advice do you have for families looking to live in Prescott?
Honestly? Unless you have at least 60-100K in the bank or have an established cash positive business that is already bringing money in, beware. There just aren’t enough financial opportunities for families here. There is a lot of welfare and a lot of low paying, back breaking server and construction jobs, but there isn’t a lot of white collar, middle class work. When you do find those jobs, they want to pay you wages from the 90’s. I think families need to be ready for the prejudice as well – although more and more people are moving here from out of state, the Prescott Community Facebook Page among others is a nest of the real “vibe” of how people feel here. Until leaders in this community band together to stop demonizing people moving into Arizona and commit to paying their labor force a higher wage, I fear the class differential will just continue to widen. People move here, enchanted by the beauty, the weather, the charm of the people, and must leave because they just can’t afford to stay.
What can community leaders focus on in terms of attracting and supporting a family population in Prescott?
First, they can take radical responsibility for their community and commit to creating a positive image for families coming from out of state. They can get into the online forums and spread a message of tolerance and inclusiveness to help heal the fear and the hate that so many people spread via social media and regular media channels about “refugees” from other states. Basic human rights shouldn’t be partisan platforms. Every family deserves to be safe; every kid deserves a safe and sturdy school, and everyone deserves a wage that parallels the housing market and cost of living. The community leaders can make sure they work every day for gaining the funding and political support our schools and our industry need to truly support families, prospective teachers and their financial growth.
Unless this state wants even more people on welfare, business owners need to pay their employees more. Period. Most decent people are horrified at the poverty and the greed of big corporations who set up shop in third-world countries and suck their community “labor dry,” but that type of greed and “it isn’t my problem” attitude regarding the welfare of their employees is prevalent in this country as well to a degree, here. We are better than that. We are America for heaven’s sake. Let’s do better. Let’s re-build a middle class. Let’s create jobs and training so those who want to step out of the food and construction industries CAN, and our children don’t have to go to other states just to support themselves and their dreams. I’m not saying that the service and construction industries aren’t somehow “good enough” but there are a lot of people that simply don’t want to do that for a living and they shouldn’t have to go to other cities to pursue dreams in writing, the arts, advertising, etc.…
I’m also certainly NOT asking for handouts; I’m only suggesting fair wages and less fear-based bias – we all come from somewhere else. This town was settled by Pioneers…people who struck out on their own and LEFT their own states to pursue their fortune and happiness, just like my husband and myself. People here should be inspired and humbled by that attitude. It’s a beautiful town. Let’s make it more beautiful with shops and businesses run by the moms and pops that love it here and a housing market that a middle class can afford. Let’s pay our teachers what they deserve! They are molding our children’s minds and are training our “future” they shouldn’t have to work two jobs to afford to teach our kids.