Cantor: the real story on Scottsdale multifamily housing

Trammell Crow Residential, some Scottsdale residents may recognize the name. Or, J. Ronald Terwilliger?

Those are names that have gained more and more influence over the last eight years in the area of affordable housing nationwide, but Scottsdale’s economic revitalization does not include affordable workforce housing discussions.

When the city dissolved the Housing Board in 2012 the city council did so stating that they would merge policies and programs that the Housing Board had created and promoted, into the, then, newly named Neighborhood Advisory Commission (formerly the Neighborhood Enhancement Commission).

Well, that hasn’t happened and that flies in the face of the Scottsdale Housing Strategy approved by city council.

The strategy states:

“Housing affordability throughout the City of Scottsdale is a critical link in the chain of community sustainability and the need for additional housing opportunities has become imminent due to the vast population and employment growth that Scottsdale is experiencing. The Scottsdale Housing Board and the City of Scottsdale understand the importance of that link and have set out to identify strategies in response to the documented need for additional housing that is affordable to existing and future residents of the City.”

These strategies must also address affordable housing preservation. Scottsdale is home to several hundred subsidized rental units that are losing their subsidies and are at-risk of being lost as a result of converting to market-rate properties. This, in turn, could remove a vast number of families with children as well as elderly residents from their affordable homes with few affordable housing options in the community.”

Preserving these units and the subsidies that make them affordable to low-income households is critical, especially in such a tight real estate market with severely limited affordable housing opportunities.
No one has bothered to look at what is going on and relate that to the housing strategy.

In 2006, the Housing Board became aware that over 3,000 apartment rental units had been flipped to create “for-sale condos,” in the preceding two years. Condos that were not affordable. As well demolition of five apartment complexes in downtown Scottsdale to make way for resort development took out housing for our downtown workforce. Since 2006, none of what was removed has been replaced.

Speaking with some of the developers they could and would include affordable options in their buildings, but nobody asked them. That means that the voice of the Housing Board meant little without the support and advocacy of city council leadership and leadership in the business community.

Developers came up with options, such as providing funds to the Scottsdale Human Services Housing programs. Like the funds they are required to provide to the city for art pieces on their property, funding could be an alternative or inclusive option.

Allowing programs that would permit teachers, police, fire personnel and hospital employees and store management to live in the community they served should be an important consideration. Letters from large employers in Scottsdale supporting the creation of affordable workforce housing were submitted to the Housing Board, but no action was taken by the city council to even discuss the topic. Those businesses stated that employees being able to live and work in the same community helped with their commitment and enthusiasm for their work.

We hear that the aim is to fill the close to 9,000 new multifamily housing units with “Millennial tech professionals.” First off, that’s a heck of a lot of tech professionals and a heck of a lot of Millennials. Not every one of them is going to be able to afford “luxury” housing. And those I have spoken with would rather not have to live with multiple roommates because they have been doing that for years in dorms or share housing while they were in college. Fact is many are turning to “crowd funding” in order to get into a house — and single-family housing in Scottsdale is shooting over the moon.

When we moved the senior residents out of the Wheel Inn Ranch Mobile Home Park that closed in 2015-16, “we” being the Scottsdale Coalition (Nancy Cantor and Jim Heather; no connection to the new organization), AZLEOS, Scottsdale Human Services, Councilpersons Kathy Littlefield (Bob) and Guy Phillips, we had nothing to help with and had to invent ways to help. No policies, inadequate state funding.

The huge majority of the 81 folks we moved out had lived and worked in Scottsdale for decades. Our school maintenance and office people, grocery store clerks, people who worked at auto dealerships and in the shops downtown and at Fashion Square when it opened. Some were veterans of Korea and Vietnam. They had no where to move in Scottsdale. All received health care through Maricopa County. Most of them did not drive.

Ten of them did find ways to move their mobile homes to either Mesa or Tempe or far northern Phoenix, one went to Parker, Ariz. Two moved in with family and two went in to extended care facilities after suffering stress-related illnesses due to being uprooted. Some were offered housing in other mobile home parks because their units were too old to move. All received assistance from Scottsdale Human Services for a variety of issues.

We had to reach out to the community for donations to help these folks and, grateful though we were for the $19,000 donated, when you are moving mobile homes it costs around $7,000 just to move one and that doesn’t include fees for the new site and last months rent (even though the park was closed).

Scottsdale has 450 units of affordable housing that get assistance through HUD programs for seniors and young families that meet the criteria. That number has not increased in over seven years.

We have seniors who are living on fixed incomes and want to be independent and active in the community that they have lived in for years. Some want to stay in their neighborhood, but downsize. (Oh, you might be surprised to hear that the largest percentage of over 65s is not in Sun City, Ariz. As of 2014, according to Maricopa Association of Governments Age Friendly Cities program 20 percent of Scottsdale residents were over 65. That makes it the place with the highest percentage of 65-year-old (or older) residents among cities with more than 100,000 people.)

There are maybe two affordable options for them in the southern part of the city, that include accelerated care. These seniors cannot afford most of the luxury facilities that have developed in our northern area. And sorry to say, all that is left are nursing homes in the old fashioned sense of the word.

So far none of the new luxury apartment have included any options for those seniors.

When I jumped all over the interview that Mr. Thornton did with Economic Vitality Director Danielle Casey, it was all of the above that has needed to be addressed. Affordability is part of economic vitality. While renters do not pay property taxes they do pay sales tax and they do shop and work and attend medical facilities and attend arts events and they do contribute to the health and well being of our city.

7,000 new units of luxury housing up against 450 units of, yes, lower income/affordable/senior/workforce housing in seven years; and developers saying they “can do it, but nobody asks.” That does not speak well to our planning and leadership.

Editor’s note: Ms. Cantor was Citizen Liaison to the MAG Aging Place/Age Friendly Cities Program; served two terms on the Scottsdale Housing Board (six years); and nine years on the Neighborhood Enhancement Commission

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment