OUTING INFILL

PHOENIX'S INFILL HOUSING PROGRAM IS SUPPOSED TO ENCOURAGE RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE CITY CORE WHILE CURBING URBAN SPRAWL. BUT WHEN IT SUBSIDIZES LUXURY HOMES IN EXCLUSIVE NEIGHBORHOODS, THE PROGRAM FILLS THE WALLETS OF BUILDERS

To promote building in low-income areas, the city waives requirements that an infill home be in a neighborhood 20 years old or older for areas near the poverty line.

But that hasn't done much to promote building in such areas.
Many others aren't.
As of August 31, the city had issued 32 permits; new applications are received almost daily. Most of the homes are priced at $80,000 and up.

Some of the other projects that have qualified for or are awaiting approval for infill subsidies include:

ù Four homes along or near Central Avenue, between Camelback Road and Glendale Avenue.

ù Five homes in Lincoln Vistas, north of Lincoln Drive around 20th Street, in the shadow of Squaw Peak. The units are priced at about $320,000.

ù Two homes at Arcadia Estates, a 41-home subdivision being built by Cameron Homes at 48th Street and Lafayette Boulevard in the Arcadia neighborhood. The homes in the development sell for about $400,000 and come with options such as a garden spa bath, media room and as many as four bathrooms.

Chris Moore, construction coordinator for Cameron Homes, says the builder intends to apply for waivers for a total of 37 homes in the subdivision.

Moore says he wasn't surprised to learn Arcadia Estates homes had qualified for the government subsidy. "Really, there was no reason for them not to give it to us because we did qualify under all the terms and conditions of the program," he says.

He says Cameron's project was already in the works when the Infill Housing Program was conceived, but the company still intends to take advantage of it.

Critics say the infill map is far too broad and the subsidies far too small to encourage building where it's needed--downtown.

Furthermore, they say, requirements of the program--that houses be built with air conditioning, block fences, one and three-quarter baths, a two-car garage--discourage building in depressed neighborhoods, where, lacking larger subsidies, residents can't afford such amenities.

"Some consumers will be left out of this package of benefits. There's just no doubt about it," Rimsza admits. He's quick to observe that his pilot program is just one of the many ways the city is promoting infill, insisting that the Infill Housing Program never was intended to focus on decaying inner-city neighborhoods or "affordable housing." It was meant to promote growth where the market supports it. Bill Cleverley recalls otherwise. The owner of Monterey Homes was one of 60 people interviewed by city planners last year when they were drafting the Infill Housing Program. Cleverley's been building homes and apartments in the Valley for 15 years; two years ago he built 36 homes near Central Avenue, between Northern and Glendale. He's shocked to hear that the final infill map approved by the council encompasses that area; his $350,000 homes sold out in about a year--without subsidies.

Cleverley says, "Initially, the true thrust of [the city's] infill housing incentive program was designed for the classic infill--you know, like central parts of Phoenix that are pretty depressed and old . . ."

But that thrust changed. "Central Avenue and Northern is hardly an economically disadvantaged area," Cleverley notes. R.L. Brown, publisher of The Phoenix Housing Market Letter and longtime observer of real estate trends, is also confused. "The north central corridor has had a series--a long series--of infill activity that has gone on for at least a decade or more," he says. "It's a desirable area which builders--if they can acquire property and go through the process on their own--are usually willing to do. But that's not really my understanding of the thrust of the city's major interest--it's to develop more toward the core of the city, and those properties south of the downtown area."

Cleverley says he told city staff, "Look, who is going to go down there and buy a house? It's crime-ridden, the schools are a problem, you've got drugs, I mean--a $2,000 incentive? You'd have to spend that much on security bars in your house."

He says the program was originally supposed to target blighted neighborhoods, and concludes, "I guess the maps started to expand into other areas. Of course, the dynamics behind that are all political." Councilmember Cody Williams admits that the map grew. He says, "There certainly were some requests [from councilmembers]--'What about this area, what about that area?' I literally had to create an argument that that area just north of South Mountain ought to be an infill area."

None of this surprises Holly O'Brien, president of the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix.

"When I hear 'infill project,' it makes me shake in my boots," O'Brien says, "because we've been hearing about it for years but we just keep going the other way."

In more than two decades with the city's Planning Department, assistant director Joy Mee has seen attempts at infill housing come and go. "It's been quite a range. And the range of projects and the range of success have been about the same," she says.

At the high end of the success meter is Renaissance Place, a gated luxury condominium community on Seventh Street north of Washington. The city offered construction financing assistance and reduced the cost of the land significantly, Mee says. St. Croix, a condominium complex at Fifth Street and Fillmore, wasn't as successful. Initially, the condos didn't sell, Mee says. They were converted to apartments--and were quite popular--and are now switching back to condos.

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