By Kaila White, The Republic, September 14, 2014
One of the best things about Elizabeth Maciel’s new apartment is the brand-new playground just steps from her front door, where she can watch her four young children play through the blinds in her favorite part of the house — the spacious kitchen.
With three bedrooms and a renovated bathroom, her home is bigger and nicer than anything she has ever lived in, but the rent is about half as much as her other homes, she said.
Maciel, 26, lives in Ironwood Village, a formerly foreclosed apartment complex in downtown Glendale’s Centerline district that was recently renovated to create affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people.
Monthly rents range from about $570 for two-bedroom apartments to $775 for three bedrooms, utilities included. The complex is among a handful of similar new and planned revitalization projects designed to bring safety and stability to neighborhoods in the West Valley.
The city, state, a non-profit and a developer partnered on the complex’s $9.5 million renovation, with $2.1 million coming from the city via federal neighborhood-stabilization grants.
The developer, Gorman & Company Inc., also has plans for a multifamily affordable-housing project in Avondale. Madison Heights, a public-housing community near Van Buren Street and Dysart Road, will be demolished and rebuilt once the developer secures funding.
Madison Heightsand a complex in west Phoenix were the top two priorities on Housing Authority of Maricopa County’s list of redevelopment projects, according to Brian Swanton, Gorman & Company’s Arizona market president.
They also are the only projects in Arizona approved by Congress for transformation under the new Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
Though single-family homes are the most popular, some West Valley cities are partnering with non-profits and private companies to build multifamily affordable-housing complexes, some to help an area recover from foreclosure, others to improve dilapidated public housing.
Ironwood Village includes 95 units, a pool and many new amenities, including solar panels, a computer lab, a fitness room and a multipurpose room, which houses free before- and after-school programs.
Elizabeth Maciel reads one of her children’s Mother’s Day poems in the kitchen of her three-bedroom apartment at the recently renovated Ironwood Village in Glendale.
Since moving in, Maciel has been able to afford a few luxuries. She recently took her children to dinner and to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
“I would love to get a house of my own someday, but I know me staying here, being here, I think I’ll be able to do that. You know, afford this place but save up on the side,” she said.
It’s common for people with low incomes to spend as much as 50 percent of their gross monthly income on rent, which makes it difficult to afford other necessities or save for a home of their own, said Michael Trailer, director of the Arizona Department of Housing.
“It goes beyond just housing,” he said.
“In our community, we like people to be productive and pay taxes; it’s pretty hard to do that when you don’t have decent housing. Simply put, housing creates stability in families and communities.”
Ironwood Village is an example of the new model of multifamily affordable housing, he said.
“We’ve come a long way from the old days of public housing. We’re not just trying to put a roof over people’s heads; we’re trying to build these projects in locations close to jobs and education and services which provide the best access to opportunity.”
In order to be able to receive federal funding, Gorman & Company had to find a foreclosed complex within certain areas that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deemed neediest and with the most potential for impact, a difficult task that had them looking at about 40 properties before picking Ironwood Village and another one in Phoenix, Swanton said.
Most of the affordable-housing revitalization is in or near Phoenix because of greater access to transportation for work and school.
The lack of light rail has created a challenge for West Valley revitalization, as there are more incentives for developers to buildaround the light-rail area, Swanton said.
But Ironwood Village fell within an approved area by a single block, he said. Gorman & Company, Catholic Charities Community Services, the Arizona Department of Housing and Glendale partnered to revitalize it.
“It was a property that was literally falling apart at the seams. … Physically, it was a nightmare,” Swanton said. “And quite frankly, the existing tenant base was a challenging one.”
About half of the residents moved out during the renovation process — most when they saw the new credit- and criminal-background standards, he said. In other cases, up to eight people were living in a two-bedroom apartment, which is considered overcrowding by federal standards.
Gorman was required to use the federal funding to find more-suitable homes for those families, in some cases giving up to $30,000 for their relocation, Swanton said.
Year over year in August, police received about half as many calls for service from the complex once Gorman took over and began renovation in 2012, according to police logs.
“If we go into a neighborhood like where Ironwood is and rebuild the complex, it starts to revitalize the neighborhood. It’s like dominoes,” Trailer said. “We’ve seen it over and over again where we’ll go into an area that has deteriorated and rehab an existing complex and, all of a sudden, everybody else starts fixing theirs up, too.”
Gorman completed another multifamily affordable-housing project in 2011, the Glendale Enterprise Lofts across the street from Glendale High School in the Centerline district, which runs along Glendale Avenue between 43rd and 67th avenues.
Since then, a gourmet taco shop opened and a shopping center was remodeled down the street, and the high school opened a new culinary building — investments that are related to the Lofts’ improvement, said Brian Friedman, Glendale’s director of economic development.
“There is a positive ripple effect. Once one business starts remodeling, we see others also investing in new projects, improving their properties and new private investment being planned,” Friedman said.
A shopping center, Circle K, McDonald’s and Burger King have been remodeled near Ironwood Village, he said, and Ascent, a data-center company, has planned a new campus nearby.
Both Ironwood Village and Glendale Enterprise Lofts were 100 percent occupied within weeks of reopening.
Most other West Valley cities that receive federal funding for housing aid, such as Peoria, use it mostly for single-family homes through work with Habitat for Humanity and Chicanos Por La Causa.
In addition, the non-profit Native American Connection has bought land in Glendale, near Laurie Lane and 59th Avenue just north of Centerline, and is awaiting financing to build multifamily affordable housing for seniors.