By Colleen Sparks
The city of Phoenix, non-profit organizations and developers are teaming up to address the critical need for affordable housing, an issue exacerbated by financial struggles people are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Experts say incomes have not been keeping pace with increasing rents in North Central Phoenix and other parts of the city in recent years, putting people at risk of becoming homeless or being forced to bounce between family and friends’ homes. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused many residents to struggle even more as many have lost their jobs or been required to reduce their hours at work.
Catholic Charities has spearheaded and managed many affordable housing communities around the Valley.
“The need is great,” said Steve Capobres, vice president of business development for Catholic Charities and executive director of Housing for Hope, a non-profit affiliate of Catholic Charities. “There’s a long way to go to try to fill the demand. We’ve been seeing rent rise twice as fast as income.”
Catholic Charities is partnering with the Foundation for Senior Living to build affordable apartments on 7th Avenue, slightly south of Camelback Road that will be called Acacia Heights. There will be 78 units in the first phase of the apartments, which will be for residents ages 55 and older, and 66 units for families in phase two. The first phase of the apartments is expected to be ready for residents to move in by early January. The seniors’ apartments will each have one bedroom with rent averaging about $650 a month. Capobres said the city of Phoenix committed to providing $750,000 for phase one of the apartments and $1 million for phase two.
Catholic Charities also is planning to open a 297-unit affordable housing apartment complex on 19th Avenue, a block north of Camelback Road called Mesquite Terrace. The apartments will have one, two and three bedrooms and a playground. Those apartments will likely be completed in about two years.
Veterans will have the opportunity to seek affordable housing in another apartment complex Catholic Charities is building on 9th Avenue between Mountain View Road and Peoria Avenue. There will be 10, one-bedroom apartments for anyone who has served in the military. The rent will be about $650 a month. The plan is to open those apartments by Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Catholic Charities already opened Laurel Tree at Northern Apartments at 1825 W. Northern Ave. There are 70 apartment units, with one, two and three bedrooms. Rent is based on tenants’ income with the average rent for a one-bedroom unit at about $650 a month, two-bedrooms on average costing $750 a month and three bedrooms renting at $850 a month. Recently there were 150 people on the waiting list to rent an apartment there.
Rosewood Court Apartments at 5104 N. 16th Ave. is another affordable housing community owned by Catholic Charities and Housing for Hope. Of the 80 units, some are reserved for senior citizens and disabled residents.
Multi-family developer Greenlight Communities also is trying to provide affordable housing to people who work in the city. Some residents have already moved in to units at its Cabana on 12th, an apartment complex at 4225 N. 12th St. Studio apartments in Cabana on 12th cost about $850 a month, while one-bedroom apartments are $1,000 a month and two-bedrooms run residents $1,200 a month, said Rob Lyles, partner at Greenlight Communities.
Lyles said these apartments are affordable for teachers, healthcare workers, firefighters and police officers who work in the city.
“You see the ultra-luxury apartments being built all over town,” he said. “Only 18-percent of the rental population can afford to live there.”
Greenlight Communities also is leasing for Cabana on Washington, apartments at 5300 E. Washington St.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego praised Catholic Charities and other non-profit organizations for addressing affordable housing. A lack of affordable housing has been a problem for the city made worse by COVID-19, she said.
“The amount of our residents who are spending too much of their income on housing has grown,” Gallego said. “Catholic Charities has been a wonderful partner. They build sustainable, attractive communities and they stay involved and continue to invest in their properties.”
The Phoenix City Council last month approved a citywide affordable housing measure that will address the need for another 163,000 housing units in Phoenix, including redeveloping city-owned land with mixed-income housing.
Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, a state association that aims to end poverty, said lack of affordable housing is a big issue. Zwick said she believes that the city, non-profit organizations and developers have a “shared responsibility” of bringing more affordable housing to Phoenix.
First Place AZ founder, president and CEO Denise Resnik said the demand for affordable housing is greater than the supply. Her non-profit organization is focused on ensuring that housing and community options for people who have autism and other neurodiversities are as plentiful as they are for everyone else. The organization recently received a $100,000 grant from a partnership of the Phoenix IDA and the Phoenix Community Development & Investment Corporation to conduct a housing study.
COVID-19 has made it more challenging to help people who are struggling with homelessness, said Amy Schwabenlender, executive director of the Human Services Campus, a collaborative force of many organizations that partner on one campus to end homelessness.
Besides economic challenges people are facing, mental illnesses can make it more difficult for some residents to find housing on their own, Schwabenlender said. Supportive housing where residents can receive help accessing healthcare, as well as support groups, counseling, cooking lessons, financial literacy and other resources is needed in Phoenix, she said.
“If we want to ensure that everyone in Arizona can access safe, affordable housing, it takes all levels of government working with private developers, nonprofits,” Schwabenlender said.