Phoenix Rising: D.C. and downtown housing

phoenixrising

The Matthew Henson Village at Seventh Avenue and Buckeye is one of three public housing facilities in Phoenix supported by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere. (Ryan Boyd/DD)
The Matthew Henson Village at Seventh Avenue and Buckeye is one of three public housing facilities in Phoenix supported by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere. (Ryan Boyd/DD)

Amidst a seemingly endless parade of development debates involving luxury apartment complexes and special incentives, the much more subtle issue of federal housing policy shapes the landscape of downtown Phoenix.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees numerous programs that seek to make housing, be that rental or ownership, more attainable for the average person.

Many of these programs help local organizations provide public and affordable housing to residents. The Phoenix Housing Department, for instance, has three communities supported by HUD’s Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere plan. The Matthew Henson Village apartments at Seventh Avenue and Buckeye, the Symphony Apartments at 16th Avenue and Buckeye, and the Aeroterra Senior Village apartments at 16th Street and Fillmore are all public housing projects where only up to 30 percent of an individual’s income will go to rent, and are all situated within the Central City Village, the local community around downtown.

Outside these Phoenix-run properties, HUD programs such as the Community Development Block Grant are excellent examples of ways to empower local communities to provide infill development — developing vacant or under-used areas within existing urban areas — as well as housing counseling and much more, are administered by the Neighborhood Services Department of the City of Phoenix.

But this tremendous power, unfortunately, can be subject to abuse as well. Historically, one of the HUD’s agencies, the Federal Housing Administration, encouraged segregation by restricting the availability of financial assistance to minority populations.

More recently, HUD and the FHA continue to incentivize the suburbanization of the city. According to a report by the Regional Plan Association, 81 percent of federal loans and loan guarantees support single-family home ownership, which incentivizes expansionary sprawl.

Beyond that, even when HUD programs support infill development, their massive restrictions for multifamily housing development often make it impossible to create mixed-use, mid-rise buildings that can form the backbone for urban cores. Assuming that developers are able to even wade through the far more complicated rules for multifamily development given HUD’s intense focus on single family home ownership.

The consequences of such convoluted policies led to a downtown that has been gradually gentrifying as more interest returns toward infill development. Without public focus on affordable housing, the rift between the number of Class A and Class B apartments and the number of workforce and affordable apartments in a one-mile radius from Central Avenue and Van Buren will continue to grow simply because the market demands it.

Admittedly, there are a significant number of workforce and affordable apartment units three to five miles out from Central Avenue and Van Buren. But as the ability to live in, not just near, what the city of Phoenix Community and Economic Development Department dub a vibrant and sustainable urban core is questioned for some, don’t forget to pay attention to all the factors, even the ones in temperamental Washington D.C.

Contact the columnist at raboyd2@asu.edu.