The future of another one of Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs’ agency directors is in legislative peril.
On Thursday, the Senate’s Committee on Director Nominations voted to recommend a ‘no’ vote on Hobbs’ selection for the Director of the Arizona Department of Housing, Joan Serviss.
In a press release announcing the result of the committee’s vote, the Senate Republican Caucus shared that “during questioning of Serviss, troubling information came to light regarding a history of repeated and seemingly pervasive plagiarism while serving as Executive Director with the Arizona Housing Coalition. The Caucus added, “Over a period of about four and a half years, an alarming number of individual statements were documented as written by other groups, but presented by Ms. Serviss as her own original works,” and “under her leadership, both government entities and the public were misled, threatening the credibility of this organization.”
The chairman of the committee, Senator Jake Hoffman, released a statement after the official recommendation, saying, “It’s frustrating that the Hobbs Administration once again did not conduct proper vetting of a nominee tasked with leading a critical agency, like the Arizona Department of Housing. We’ve carried out our due diligence and have so far identified several unqualified, partisan individuals placed by Hobbs in these positions of power that directly impact the lives and livelihoods of our citizens. As I stated during this hearing, we cannot have a Manchurian candidate who will blindly follow the direction of special interest groups. We need independent thinkers who are seeking to serve only the best interests of our state and our taxpayers. In the absence of Hobbs conducting her own thorough vetting, the Committee on Director Nominations will continue to ask the tough questions of these individuals because it is what our citizens expect of us, and our state can only afford to advance highly qualified directors to lead our agencies.”
According to the release prepared by the Senate Republican Caucus, “with the Director of the Arizona Department of Housing responsible for overseeing hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to address homelessness and affordable housing issues, it became apparent that Ms. Serviss would be unfit to serve in this position” leading to the 3-2 vote against her appointment. Unless the governor withdraws this nomination, the full Senate will likely vote on Serviss when it reconvenes in 2024.
Senate Democrats were outraged by the committee’s rejection of Serviss. Two Senators, Lela Alston and Flavio Bravo, quickly issued a press release, condemning the action. Alston said, “I have sat in more legislative committees than I would like to admit, but I have never seen worse behavior than that which was displayed by Senator Hoffman today. Director Serviss is broadly supported by veterans, housing experts, community members, and those in the advocacy community for this role.” Bravo added, “The accusations Republicans chose to throw were not that of a legislative official who should easily be able to distinguish the difference between an advocacy letter and an academic paper…He (Hoffman) put his own personal disagreements with Governor Hobbs above the dire needs of Arizonans in urgent need of housing.”
Alston also attempted to divide Republicans on the panel in her statement, expressing sympathy for Senators Wadsack and Shope allowing “themselves to be dragged along by Hoffman in his childish exercise in ego.” Both Republicans didn’t appear to see the situation as their Democrat colleagues. Shope reposted the Senate Republicans’ press release on the hearing and its result, while Wadsack stated, “It was an honor to sit on the DINO Committee today.”
Serviss was one of Hobbs’ first appointments to cabinet-level positions back in December 2022 – before the Democrat was sworn into office. In announcing the nominations of Serviss and others on December 27, Hobbs said, “These are some of the best minds Arizona has to offer, and I am proud that they have chosen to serve the people of Arizona by my side. As a social worker, I know firsthand the importance of these crucial agencies to the lives of the people who need them. I am confident that this group of talented individuals has what it takes to transform our state’s health, social, and safety systems so that they work for everyone across Arizona.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
A freshman Arizona Republican Representative scored a victory in his efforts to uphold the interests of hard-working taxpayers.
Last week, Representative Matt Gress issued a press release, announcing that “the Arizona Department of Housing won’t be enforcing a controversial – and very likely illegal – provision in its contract with the City of Scottsdale.”
Gress’s release explained that the “contract provision would have authorized the City to use the state funds to house homeless people from ‘the zone’ in downtown Phoenix and foreign nationals who otherwise would have been expelled under Title 42 in a hotel close to Pima and Indian Bend Roads.” The release added that “the City was previously awarded a $940,000 grant from the Department of Housing to carry out the terms of the contract,” and that “the Department has now admitted to Representative Gress that, despite the terms of the Contract, it does not intend to enforce the ‘Zone’ or the ‘Title 42’ provisions of its Contract with the City.”
In a statement accompanying his release, Gress said, “This is a victory for the safety and well-being of Scottsdale’s residents, many who staunchly oppose their tax dollars being spent to house homeless from other cities and foreign nationals who should have been deported under Title 42. I maintain serious concerns regarding the city’s intentions to utilize area hotels for this purpose and intend to pursue this matter further. Soon I will announce details of a public subcommittee hearing where I plan to delve more deeply into the problematic approach of converting hotels to housing for homeless.”
On August 3, Representative Gress transmitted a letter to Arizona Department of Housing Director Joan Serviss, expressing his concerns about “significant and unsettled questions (regarding) the validity and enforceability of the Contract” between the City of Scottsdale and the Department. Gress asserted that “nothing in state law or S.B. 1720 (what the Department derived its authority to execute the Contract under), however, authorizes the Department or the City to use state monies to provide housing for foreign nationals who entered the country after Title 42 was lifted in early May.”
The Representative warned that “if the Department enforces this unlawful provision, or if the City attempts to require the hotel to house individuals from the Zone or aliens who have been released under the federal government’s unconstitutional parole program, the City and the Department will be vulnerable to a lawsuit by a taxpayer to recover the illegal payment of public monies.”
Director Serviss responded to Gress on August 18, informing the legislator that “while we stand by the validity of the Contract, we have confirmed with the City that the shelter beds and services provided pursuant to the Contract have not and will not serve those individuals impacted by the Zone and Title 42.”
The issue of temporarily housing foreign nationals in cities around Arizona is not new to the state. In 2021, former Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Acting Director of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, “expressing grave concerns that an ICE contractor has apparently subcontracted with the current owners of a hotel…in Scottsdale to operate a 1,200-person ICE detention facility.” Brnovich noted his disappointment with the federal government over its neglect to confer with his office before executing this contract, highlighting the “important public safety issues involved in locating any detention center in a community setting.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
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.