Downtown Phoenix’s residents experienced a glimmer of hope in the ongoing homeless crisis last month after a court declared the city to blame. If the city doesn’t appeal the court’s order, it may be the end of the massive encampment known as “The Zone.”
The decision flies in the face of the precedent set by other cities: plans and spending that yield no favorable results, ultimately forcing the residents to learn to live with the crime and squalor. Yet, Phoenix may no longer be resigned to the same fate borne by most other major cities. Downtown property and business owners were vindicated in their belief: city officials’ plans, spending, and promises alone don’t qualify as results.
Requiring results of the city could mean The Zone may cease to exist in the near future — restoring a square mile of the current wasteland of city-sanctioned slums into a healthy business district — but only if the city of Phoenix decides to follow through on the court-ordered action to resolve the homeless crisis. Cleaning up The Zone would mean finding shelter and services for around 800 homeless residing in the area, according to a census conducted by the Human Services Campus late last month.
The first bout of legal relief came for The Zone’s residents and business owners after the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled last month that the city of Phoenix was at fault for The Zone. The court ordered the city to show that it’s taking “meaningful steps” toward fixing The Zone. They have until July 10 to do so, with a trial date scheduled for June.
The ruling came days after the city of Phoenix promised to finally meet to fix The Zone, a promise prompted by back-to-back murders in the encampment.
Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute, Timothy Sandefur, who submitted an amicus brief in the case, told AZ Free News that this ruling was a good first step toward remedying The Zone — but that the city has a ways to go.
“I think this is a first step and a very important one,” said Sandefur.
Sandefur said that the superior court indicated the best next steps for the city would be to build structured campgrounds and establish treatment programs, rather than continue with their current “housing first” approach.
However, notice of a settlement in a separate, federal case issued recently may complicate matters in finally getting the city of Phoenix to fix The Zone.
In the Arizona District Court case, the ACLU and the city held mediation about three weeks ago.
Details of the settlement weren’t made public. The Phoenix City Council plans to convene April 18 in an executive session — a meeting not open to the public — to discuss the terms of the settlement. At some point after, the Phoenix City Council will announce the settlement terms during a public meeting.
Of note, the city attempted to dismiss the superior court case — but not the federal case. The city also spent just shy of $100,000 fighting the superior court case.
Ilan Wurman, another lawyer on the lawsuit against the city, told AZ Free News that the court’s order to fix The Zone was thorough to the point where he imagined it would be difficult for the city to fight it.
“The court’s ruling is such a thorough victory for the business and property owners that it will be very hard for the city to overcome it at a full trial on the merits,” said Wurman. “We hope the city does the right thing and considers a settlement or simply follows through on the court’s instructions — that will save a lot of expense to taxpayers and it will be better for the unsheltered community as well.”
In remarks to the press, the city stresses that it has allocated around $140 million to solve the homeless crisis. However, there’s a difference between commitment and spending. Of the $120 million in COVID-19 relief funds received to address the homeless crisis, the city has only spent about 10 percent.
Of what little the city has spent for the homeless crisis, the Maricopa County Superior Court assessed that none of this spending has actually mitigated the crisis.
“With few exceptions, the action items about which city representatives testified centered around the creation of more bureaucracy, additional staff positions, and obtaining additional funding for programs to vaguely address homelessness in general,” stated Judge Scott Blaney. “The Court received very little evidence — if any — that the City intends to take immediate, meaningful action to protect its constituent business owners, their employees, and residents from the lawlessness and chaos in the Zone.”
However, in a recent interview, Mayor Kate Gallego indicated that the city was attempting to follow through on a “housing first” approach, and claimed that the city was “working very hard” to fix the homeless crisis.
As AZ Free News previously reported, “housing first” — also referred to as “permanent supportive” or “affordable” housing — holds the theory that the homeless will choose to seek employment, become financially responsible, and receive mental health care and/or substance abuse treatment if food and housing are provided. The theory also posits that enabling the homeless to choose their housing and support services will make them more likely to remain in that housing and stick with self-improvement initiatives.
Gallego shared that the city was working on launching seven new shelter options in partnership with various organizations, and that the city is hoping to receive additional help from both the state and federal government. She mentioned that she would meet with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Gallego disclosed that she recently spoke with Gov. Katie Hobbs about the homeless crisis — a conversation that had last occurred during Hobbs’ inauguration week in January. The mayor said that Hobbs was looking for additional resources to provide the city.
“Residents should feel confident that they’re going to see changes,” said Gallego. “The message we want to send to the public is that we recognize it’s a problem and we want to solve it.”
When questioned, Gallego didn’t directly deny that the city wouldn’t appeal the superior court’s decision.
In another interview, Gallego claimed that adequate law enforcement was taking place in The Zone. Gallego’s claim conflicted with the various investigative reports and witness accounts that depicted minimal law enforcement in The Zone.
“We treat every member of our community the same when they commit a crime. We want to be consistent and to enforce breaking the law,” said Gallego. “If you commit a crime, it is the same regardless of your housing status.”
However, the “Gaydos and Chad Show” testified to witnessing a myriad of criminal activity during a recent excursion in The Zone — including drug use, public defecation and urination, and prostitution — but not seeing any police presence. In response, Gallego claimed the city’s police were “too aggressive” when handling the homeless. The mayor cited the Arizona District Court case against the city as justification for her claim. However, that lawsuit concerned whether the city could enforce camping and sleeping bans, as well as whether the city had a right to seize or throw away items from homeless encampments as part of cleanup efforts. The lawsuit does not address police response to criminal activity.
Watch: The Zone – Homelessness and Crime Rampant in Phoenix
Intense poverty, frequent crime, social instability, high mortality, poor living standards: these qualities describe third-world countries. They also describe “The Zone”: the sprawling encampment of over 1,000 homeless in downtown Phoenix just blocks from the state capitol and amidst what was once a thriving business district. It’s an area where law and order don’t seem to exist; so much so that locals have given the area another, much darker nickname: “The Thunderdome.”
The crisis reached a new high after the discovery of a premature baby’s remains several weeks before Thanksgiving last year, burned in the middle of the street. A month later, a similar grisly fate befell a homeless man.
“That child burned… that was the beginning of the end for me. I don’t know why that hit us so hard,” said Karl Freund, who was leasing a building in The Zone and is suing the city of Phoenix over their handling of the homeless crisis. “Someone set a child on fire, and then two weeks later somebody burned a body just a block away. Then you see the people that are so mentally ill that you can’t place them in society. We walked out a year ago to see a girl masturbating 20 feet away from my car in the parking lot.”
Death and depravity are a common occurrence in The Zone.
Last month, Phoenix police shot and killed a Spanish-speaking homeless man who lunged at them with scissors. Attempts to incapacitate the man with stun guns were unsuccessful. Police had responded to a 911 call from a woman reporting the man approaching her aggressively while attempting to trespass her property.
Drug deals, addicts using, defecation and urination, assaults, sexual acts, and rapes are also done out in the open with increasing impunity. Gangs run the streets of The Zone, making the homeless pay for their tent space and beating them up at will. Registered sex offenders roam the streets, having been dropped off in The Zone. Businesses close but must continue paying rent.
The Zone sprung up outside Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) Human Services Campus, an organization that provides food, shelter, and more to the homeless. It’s located in a dense and diverse business district that includes a near-historic sub shop, appliance manufacturer, cabinet manufacturer, steel manufacturer, millworker, textile company, metal supplier, door supplier, ironwork company, glass and mirror shops, counter supply store, air conditioning supply store, funeral supply store, motorcycle shop, RV shop, auto repair store, electrical supply store, art museum, custom printer, waste services, paper company, several recycling services, several automotive stores, and several transportation companies. Business owners neighboring The Zone have seen the homeless population — and attendant crime — grow over the last two years and four months.
Angie Ojile, a commercial designer and realtor in The Zone for over 20 years, said that she sees this and more every day. She said she watched four people taken out of the area in body bags in a one-day period. The level of danger is so prevalent that Ojile says that other businesses refuse to come there: pizza shops won’t deliver, and plumbers won’t service the buildings. Limitations on those services pale in comparison to her other, more pressing problem: retaining employees. Ojile told AZ Free News that one young woman she hired was initially excited to work for her, but left out of fear for her safety after several days navigating The Zone.
Ojile says the city is to blame for these troubles.
“Everything they do defies logic. It’s hurting people — not helping people,” said Ojile.
The homeless relentlessly bombard Ojile’s property with human waste, fires, garbage, drug use, assaults, and gang activity. Ojile estimates that she spends more on cleanups around her property than some pay for mortgages.
“The ground is so saturated with feces and urine, I can’t even breathe. We’ve got walls that are so full of feces, it’s disgusting. You can’t even look in that direction,” said Ojile. “We had dreams when we bought this property, and now we’re paying for it.”
Property assessments estimate Ojile’s property to be worth well over $2 million — but only if The Zone didn’t exist. A realtor told Ojile that her property was essentially worth nothing due to The Zone, and that he couldn’t sell the property in good faith due to that. Anyone who bought Ojile’s property — if buyers could be found — would find themselves in the same predicament as Ojile: unable to run her business properly, causing her to fall behind on property taxes.
Ojile said that nobody from the city bothered to return her calls for help. The supervisor representing that district, Steve Gallardo, has never returned her calls. Even an ombudsman wasn’t able to get information for her in a timely manner, something which the ombudsman allegedly remarked was unusual.
“I went to the city immediately for help, but no one would ever get back to me,” said Ojile.
This crisis hasn’t just taken a financial toll on Ojile; it has imposed a great emotional and physical toll. Ojile’s dog has gone missing three times, at least. The homeless have cut her fence to take the dog; she’s had to track down her dog in homeless tents and even an animal shelter.
Last week, Ojile became severely ill while working inside her business — a sickness unlike she’d experienced before. The room she was working in wasn’t completely insulated from the outside: she had to board over one of the windows, since the homeless would break it every time she fixed it and the city would fine her for blight over the broken window. Ojile suspected that she’d been exposed to someone smoking fentanyl.
Help from law enforcement isn’t always an option for Ojile in situations like that. According to Ojile, officers told her that they wouldn’t enforce the law equally in The Zone for fear of losing their jobs.
Phoenix Police Department (PPD) reported 278 incidents in 2020 and 206 incidents in 2021. There were around 200 incidents last year. There have been well over 4,000 calls from 2019 through last year, with over 1,200 calls for fire department assistance alone last year.
For Freund, the growth of crime in the area has reached a tipping point. He’d hoped to open a real estate office in the building he’d leased, but the state of the area hasn’t made that possible. Freund said that the PPD has not only stopped responding but stopped answering their calls.
“The day-to-day down there is unlivable for anybody and I can’t believe we subject humans to this environment,” said Freund. “Why would you subject humans to that kind of living condition? There’s prostitution, murder, physical beatings.”
Freund fought to open his business in that building, spending hundreds of thousands on property taxes, renovations, and fixing damages caused by the homeless. According to Freund, they’ve attempted to set his building on fire multiple times and stolen all of the copper wiring and pipe. He gave up hope on the property after 20 months; he managed to find another to sublet the property. The thousands he spent in property taxes and beautification wasn’t enough to spur the city to action — just as is the case for so many others in The Zone.
Although these business owners have languished for years, several weeks’ worth of sports fans visiting the city were spared the crisis. Ahead of the lucrative NFL Super Bowl and PGA Waste Management Open that were held in the Phoenix area in February, the city committed to cleanup efforts of homeless encampments. However, these cleanup efforts aren’t permanent. The homeless are free to return to the areas after cleanup ends; they already have. Only 33 of the homeless accepted services during Phase One of the city’s December cleanup, according to the deputy director for the Office of Homeless Solutions, Scott Hall.
Apart from cleanups, the city has directed their millions in funding on a “housing first” or “permanent supportive housing” model, sometimes called “affordable housing.” The theory behind this model is that the homeless will choose to seek employment, become financially responsible, and receive mental health care and/or substance abuse treatment if food and housing are provided. The theory also posits that enabling the homeless to choose their housing and support services will make them more likely to remain in that housing and stick with self-improvement initiatives.
The city has poured millions of funding to create housing; yet available housing hasn’t kept pace with the number of homeless, the retention rates of the homeless in their housing and program participation remains poor, and the crisis is progressively spreading to surrounding areas. Even so, the city allocated another $12 million last October, another $8 million last November, and another $25 million in January to prove the housing first theory correct.
The city recently unveiled their latest attempt at free housing for the homeless on Feb. 8: five shipping containers repurposed for “sustainable” housing. These living structures’ purported sustainability comes at the cost of $200,000 for one-bedroom, one-bathroom’s worth of solar panels providing power, an incinerator toilet, LED lighting, and economical heating and cooling. The Arizona Department of Housing issued a $1.2 million grant for the five units.
Then there was the 24/7, single-stall, $200,000 toilet for the homeless launched in January.
Other city initiatives providing the homeless with more resources also appear to have failed to make a noticeable impact on the crisis.
In December, the city launched an employment program that pays the homeless $65 to work five-hour shifts. However, those directly impacted by or handling the crisis say that these kinds of approaches haven’t led to lasting change.
Ojile said that the homeless she’s known for many years don’t feel like they’re getting help. Some of the homeless she knows in the area have been there for decades. They’re trapped alongside Ojile.
“We can’t get out. They’re crashing our property values,” said Ojile. “There’s people that are homeless that don’t want to be near this.”
A broker estimated the value of Ojile’s property at around $2.4 million. However, the broker informed Ojile that her property is unmarketable due to the state of The Zone.
“[The] values are based ‘as if’ the property was not associated or in proximity to the situation currently occurring adjacent to the Property (i.e. homeless, mental health, drugs, gangs, etc.). Unfortunately, the property is deemed unmarketable at any realistic value at this date due to these issues along with safety concerns that would be perceived by any prospective buyer, tenant or investor that would normally have invested in the property. Further, at this date, the city of Phoenix who is trying to manage a difficult problem, has ‘kicked the can down the road’ and now that ‘can’ is on and surrounding your property. Additionally, since you have disclosed various items to me (break-ins, been threatened, witnessed drug purchases, individuals urinating/defecating on the property, etc.) as a licensed real estate agent held to ADRE Rules and Statutes, I am required to notify all potential buyers, tenants, investors of such. Therefore, as referenced above, post touring the property, which they will see the issues firsthand and my disclosure of all facts I am aware of associated with this property, I again state that the property is unfortunately ‘unmarketable’ at this time.’” (emphasis added)
Judge Glock, a senior fellow with a Texas-based nonpartisan policy group called the Cicero Institute, said that leaders are gravely mistaken to believe that a housing-first approach works.
“They’re convinced by a very small group that nothing can be done, that anything that moves people off the sidewalk is cruel, and the only option is a house for every single person that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per person,” said Glock. “It’s an unfortunate mindset, but that’s what a small group of activists have convinced them.”
Jeff Taylor, chairman of the board for the Salvation Army’s western territory, said that residential behavioral health treatment needs to occur before any kind of housing efforts. Taylor shared with AZ Free News just one of many initiatives to house the homeless that failed.
“They took 20 of their star people from the shelter, they got them apartments and they went to Target and got furniture, went to Walmart, got their closets filled with clothes, moved all 20 into apartments and they had employment. Within a week they’d sold everything, and they were running drug dens out of the housing,” recounted Taylor. “The problem isn’t getting someone clean; it’s keeping someone clean. Recovery is measured in years.”
Taylor said that the homeless with mental health or drug addictions were only as good as their treatment programs. What’s more, Taylor expressed concern that the crisis would only worsen due to the newest drug to hit the streets: fentanyl. The potency equivalent of other, more costly hard drugs, such as crack cocaine and heroin, only costs $1 for fentanyl.
“This is a humanitarian crisis that will only get worse,” said Taylor. “Fentanyl is a whole other ballgame.”
Sam Stone, a Phoenix City Council candidate, said that permanent supportive housing wouldn’t incentivize the homeless to get their lives on track. Stone doesn’t live in The Zone, but he’s spent much time there over the years attempting to solve the crisis.
“We have to start from the perspective that chronic street homelessness is not an acceptable lifestyle choice,” said Stone. “What they’re talking about is just warehousing addicts and mentally ill people until they die. Without treatment for their issues, they’re never going to get better. All they ever do is demand we spend more and more money. None of that does anything to change what’s going on. You have to lead with services. You have to switch things around. You have to make it tough to live on the street and easy to get into treatment.”
Stone and others we spoke to referenced Austin, Texas, as a poster child for mitigating homelessness. Austin voters reinstated a public camping ban in May 2021, after the city council ended a similar ban that had been in place for 23 years. Encampments quickly flooded the city, and the homeless were underfoot everywhere. That reality no longer exists: the homeless are few and far between throughout the city, and shelters are operated on a closed-campus basis, meaning that the homeless have to be referred in order to receive services.
Viewing The Zone and Phoenix’s homeless crisis isn’t a partisan issue. Catherine Miranda, a newly elected Democratic state senator representing the district containing The Zone, published a lengthy article last December criticizing the city’s approach to addressing their homeless.
Miranda declared that Phoenix’s housing first dreams had failed her homeless constituents. The freshman lawmaker urged the enforcement of existing street camping bans, prioritization of short-term rather than permanent housing, and treatment of mental health and addiction problems first.
“Phoenix wants to give the homeless permanent homes without addressing the root causes of their homelessness. No wonder it’s been a disaster,” wrote Miranda. “The state and city should refocus on a ‘Treatment First’ philosophy. While the failed ‘Housing First’ model does not require treatment for drug addiction or mental health problems, programs like recovery housing tie to sobriety or mental health checkups.”
Miranda also noted that building houses takes years, resulting in the homeless continuing to live a dangerous, unhealthy lifestyle on the streets.
“While we wait years or decades for these thousands of homes to be built, they want to keep allowing our most vulnerable neighbors, who are struggling with drug addiction and severe mental illness, to live and die on our streets,” stated Miranda.
The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) annual point-in-time (PIT) homeless counts over the past few years reflect a historic high in the homeless population, the likes of which haven’t been experienced in well over a decade. Last year’s MAG counted nearly 3,100 unsheltered homeless. That’s a 131 percent increase from 2013, when there were just over 1,300 unsheltered homeless.
The 2022 PIT also reported that 44 percent of homeless were in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe haven programs, while 56 percent weren’t. 2020 was the first time in recent years that there were more unsheltered homeless individuals: 49 percent were sheltered homeless individuals, while 51 percent weren’t. However, this decline preceded efforts to mitigate COVID-19 spread, such as reducing shelter capacity.
In 2019, 52 percent were sheltered, while 48 percent weren’t. Even those 2019 numbers reflected a significant decline in the number of homeless seeking sheltered services: the number of unsheltered homeless increased by 22 percent from 2018 to 2019, while the number of sheltered declined by seven percent.
According to the latest Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Inventory Count, Maricopa County and Phoenix had over 12,300 beds available for homeless housing last year. Nearly 8,100 of these were permanent housing, while just over 4,200 were emergency, safe haven, and transitional housing.
Homeless deaths have also been increasing at a significant rate. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that homeless deaths more than doubled from over 250 in 2019 to nearly 600 in 2020, with a slight decline to just over 500 in 2021 before skyrocketing to over 700 last year.
Though crimes and deaths have increased in the area, emergency services haven’t been able to keep up. Emails obtained by AZ Free News revealed that the Phoenix Fire Department won’t respond to calls without PPD assistance and assurance that the scene of the incident is secure, due to how dangerous The Zone has become.
Even then, police claims of an incident scene being secure aren’t always accepted by first responders. Emails revealed that the scene could span multiple city blocks and contain crowds likely to assault the emergency responders.
The emails also revealed that first responders considered the Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots of 2020 to pale in comparison to the everyday dangers of The Zone. The first responders noted that they lacked adequate protection and resources to respond in that area.
“At no point during the protests did I feel like our folks were in the potential danger that they face every day responding to the area surrounding CASS,” stated the email.
Freund says he noticed a shift in the city’s handling of the homeless around November 2020. He said that the numbers of homeless in The Zone began to increase greatly around that time, and that the homeless became more resistant to residents’ requests to move. Freund said that law enforcement activity began to slow down around that time as well.
Now, Freund and leaders like Stone are warning that this problem is spreading.
“You walk into The Zone, it’s like you’re walking out of America. It’s a nightmare hellscape that shouldn’t exist anywhere in this country, but it’s also what a lot of our major cities are coming to look like,” said Stone. “Unless we start looking to get our homeless population into treatment or off the streets, The Zone isn’t going to stay in The Zone.”
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Last month, the City of Chandler unanimously passed Resolution 5656 to reject the proposed ‘Landings on Ocotillo’ high-density housing project. From the start, the developer has been smearing our neighbors for no other reason than we support the plans that have been voted on and approved for our community.
Along with the city, we support additional affordable housing for the community. But the fact is, this isn’t about affordable housing. If it were, then the developer—and their high-paid zoning lawyers, PR firms, and nonprofits—would have found a way to make the project work at one (or more) of the 14 other sites that fit within existing planning.
This is about profit. And to make matter worse, in just 15 years, this housing can (and probably will) convert to regular market rate housing. This means that the subsidies will go away, and the tenants who need the subsidies will get kicked out.
The reality is that the City of Chandler has already approved multiple affordable housing projects in line with the voter-approved City Master Plan. In October, the City of Chandler approved a large public housing development for seniors. In November, the City approved hundreds of affordable housing units in its Downtown District. Resident and neighborhood opposition groups have been unanimous in their support for affordable housing, which can be further evidenced by their 85% affirmative vote on the Chandler General Plan.
The problem is that the high-density housing project (Landings) proposed by the Developer (Dominium) is on an unsuitable county island site. Development as a multifamily living site is incompatible with the voter-approved General Plan, the Chandler Water Master Plan, and the Chandler Airpark Area Plan, as noted by the City Council in Resolution 5656.
Given that Arizona is a desert, the largest issue is the incompatibility with the Chandler Water Master Plan—the site in question does not have the water capacity to support any form of housing. The City allocates water in accordance with the Chandler Water plan depending on intended use and zoning. The site in question is currently zoned for farming with the plan to rezone it to light industry or employment under the Chandler General Plan and Chandler Airpark Plan. Light industrial/employment is allocated 121 gpd per 1,000 ft, whereas the proposed multifamily housing requires over twice that amount at 253 gpd per 1,000 ft. If this project were approved, the site would have grossly insufficient water. Neither Dominium nor its representatives have addressed in the media or to government officials how they will supply the 102 gpd shortfall. With existing drought conditions, Chandler is currently under Tier 2 water shortage restrictions. There is simply not enough water to support this proposed development at this location.
The assumption that this land would be used for light industrial uses has been the basis for other plans like traffic planning. Using this land for housing instead of light industrial would increase the number of cars on the road in an area that already has the highest traffic incidents with a record injury rate when compared to the rest of southern Chandler. The full impact on traffic from current construction projects is yet to be felt in this already congested area, and this unplanned project would only make it worse.
The City of Chandler offered Dominium fourteen other locations for consideration that are in line with existing plans. Dominium refused to consider these other locations. Instead, it is focused on this specific parcel of land. The alternate locations are smaller, but they have the requisite water allocation and would fit within the parameters of the voter-approved Chandler Master Plan.
The everyday residents who live and work in this neighborhood were all universally opposed to the project at the City Council meeting. Those who spoke in favor were from other cities and organizations. Should special interest groups and outside actors determine what is best for a city? Is the voice and concern of the neighbors and residents inferior to that of a deep-pocketed developer with the right political connections?
Enough is enough. Where a voter-approved plan exists, we the people should always have final say—not some multi-million-dollar corporation. And when this case is brought before the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors this year, they must affirm this important principle.
The Voice of Chandler is a group of concerned Chandler residents fighting for the rights of We The People. You can find out more about their work here.
Flagstaff Mayor Becky Daggett will focus first on addressing climate change and affordable housing.
Daggett issued this promise during her swearing-in at last week’s city council meeting. She said she would direct her staff to tackle these two issues first.
“[We are going to emphasize] affordable housing and climate action, and also scheduling meetings with the public and really trying to hit the ground running,” said Daggett.
Affordable housing and climate action are the leading two of several priorities Daggett pledged on the campaign trail. After those priorities, Daggett listed small business growth, job creation, and increased investment in “greener” multi-modal transportation: pedestrian pathways, biking, and busing.
A week prior to her swearing-in, Daggett attended a bipartisan meeting with 12 other mayors to discuss housing as well as public safety, American Rescue Plan funds, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and CHIPS and Science Act. Daggett met with President Joe Biden, the White House Intergovernmental Affairs staff, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, and Housing & Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge.
Both Daggett and the former mayor, Paul Deasy, ran their campaigns on promises to tackle climate change and affordable housing. On the trail, Daggett indicated that she would lean into higher density housing (high rise apartments, etc.) or missing middle housing (duplexes, townhomes, bungalow courts, carriage houses, etc.) to expand neighborhood walkability. Daggett also indicated a desire to reduce parking minimums.
Daggett noted that state law precludes Flagstaff from implementing its ideal affordable housing initiatives. Daggett said that until state law relaxes, the city would rely on incentives such as Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, partnerships with nonprofit and for-profit developers on city-owned land, and prioritize affordable housing during budget talks.
Climate change has been a winning topic for Flagstaff’s voters for the better part of the past decade; former mayor Coral Evans committed the city to carbon neutrality by 2030, a plan which Daggett supports. Affordable housing presents a newer concern prompted by the hot-turned-cold housing market, combined with the glut of short-term rental properties in the area.
Last June, Daggett and the Flagstaff City Council passed a Carbon Neutrality Plan. The plan noted that every action would integrate equity as a foundational element. The council pledged to encourage alternatives to cars such as walking, biking, rolling, and busing; reduce citizens’ dependence on driving; electrify its buses; expand micro-mobility devices; support citizens’ transition to electric vehicles; transition to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal needs; increase renewable energy installations and usage in new buildings while supporting solar installations on existing buildings; reduce or remove natural gas usage in municipal buildings; encourage electrical grid reliance on new buildings; require new homes to be net zero energy homes by 2030; encourage sustainable consumption; divert waste from the landfill; reduce organic waste to the landfill to feed people; and develop a portfolio of local and regional carbon dioxide removal initiatives to achieve carbon neutrality.
Last August, Daggett said she would look to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to expand emergency shelter and affordable housing initiatives. In June, Daggett said that the city should apply its $5 billion budget surplus to climate action and affordable housing.
According to Flagstaff’s profile on the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), the city has about 971,600 annual GHG emissions. It’s completed five out of nine phases spanning mitigation, adaption, and energy access & poverty initiatives.
GCoM is a coalition of over 11,500 cities and local governments across six continents and 142 countries pledging to lower emissions and establish climate resiliency. GCoM is co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Frans Timmersman, European Commission executive vice president for the European Green New Deal.
GCoM ex-officio members include Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC executive secretary; Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat executive director; and the Global Covenant of Mayors executive director. On the board are the mayors of Guelph, Canada; Warsaw, Poland; Heidelberg, Germany; Colombo, Shri Lanka; Kloto 1, Togo; Makati, Philippines; and Hobart, Australia.
Phoenix is also a member of GCoM, with reported annual GHG emissions of 16.45 million.
Last October, the Arizona Department of Housing published a Notice of Funding Availability which resulted in more than 20 developers expressing interest in sharing $24.5 million which came available to help fund affordable housing projects.
Nine applications came in by the end of January for a total of nearly 1,200 units; all but two of the applications were for projects in Maricopa or Pima counties. One was for a project serving Yuma County, while the other is the long-awaited second phase of an affordable housing complex in Sierra Vista being developed by Walling Affordable Communities, LP.
Glenn and Mary Walling specialize in the development of affordable housing apartment projects across Arizona and have been involved in bring more than 1,500 residential units to the market utilizing tax credits. One of the projects was Casa Del Sol in Sierra Vista, where Mary Walling grew up.
Casa Del Sol – Phase One of the project brough 88 badly needed low income adult housing to the area, which is home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca. Planning for Phase Two began in 2019 with the use of Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits as part of the funding mechanism.
But COVID-19 in 2020 and then uncontrolled price increases and labor challenges throughout 2021 put pressure on the company’s plans. Walling turned to the Arizona Department of Housing, which began offering a competitive State Low Income Housing Tax Credit program in further support of bringing as many affordable housing units to market as possible.
ADOH also made available the $24.5 million pool to help provide several projects with some gap financing to address the unrelenting surge in costs. In late February, the Wallings were told by ADOH that underwriting for the Casa Del Sol project could still take another 60 days.
But on March 31, ADOH told AZ Free News that underwriting was completed and the developer has received their award.
“We at the Arizona Department of Housing are proud to help fund this exciting project to bring much-needed affordable housing to Cochise County,” Sheree Bouchee – ADOH Rental Programs Administrator. “We are thrilled to collaborate in creating housing solutions for rural Arizona communities.”
It was welcome news for city officials in Sierra Vista, where there are currently only 503 affordable housing units despite the fact more than one-third of Cochise County’s 125,000 residents live in the area. The presence of Fort Huachuca and the city’s proximity a U.S. Border Patrol station near Bisbee has led local rents outpacing the ability of many non-government employees to afford local housing.
According to Sierra Vista spokesman Adam Curtis, the city staff worked with the Wallings to waive some fees and approve modifications to code requirements to help facilitate and incentivize the project. Those actions were consistent with strategies identified in the City’s voter-approved Vistas 2030 General Plan.
And with the site plan approved and a building permit already issued, city officials are looking forward the announcement of a ground-breaking ceremony.
“The second phase of Casa Del Sol will be a welcomed and much needed addition to our West End,” Community Development Director Matt McLachlan said. “The Wallings have a tremendous track record of building high quality affordable housing in our community and have been a great partner in advancing the City’s affordable housing goals.”
Tucson-based Tofel Dent Construction will serve as general contractor for Phase Two, which encompasses more than five dozen new units and a swimming pool to complement the existing recreation center. The hope now is for construction to begin in late summer with occupancy set for the end of 2023.
In the meantime, the Wallings are already moving forward with plans for Phase Three which could be ready for occupancy by the end of 2024.
News of ADOH’s assistance for the Casa Del Sol project is just one of the recent efforts across the state to address Arizona’s lack of affordable housing.
Last week the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved applying $17 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward adding more than 600 new units to the Valley’s affordable housing stock. Arizona Housing, Inc. will received $8 million of those funds to convert an existing hotel in central Phoenix into 50 permanent, supportive housing units.
In addition to the living spaces, the property will include on-site case management services to provide residents with employment assistance and social services options. Maricopa County says construction could begin yet this year with estimated completion in Summer 2023.
The remaining $9 million will support the construction of affordable rental projects in the West Valley and in central Phoenix. The Centerline on Glendale will go up at the southeast corner of 67th and Glendale Avenues. The 368-unit project by The Gorman Group will take place in two phases, starting with 186 units.
“It’s going to take awhile to get our inventory where it needs to be, but the addition of nearly 400 new rentals in the heart of Glendale is an example of how we can address our affordable housing shortage one investment and one partnership at a time,” said Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman.
In downtown Phoenix, Ulysses Development is slated to construct a 192-unit affordable rental complex called Salt River Flats. It will be built near Broadway and 14th Street, with an expected opening in Spring 2024. All of the unit figures are estimates.