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

At the low end is a smattering of fourplexes built in neighborhoods throughout central Phoenix in the mid-1980s. In many cases, the structures are so ugly and poorly constructed that they blemished already bad neighborhoods.

"It wasn't all our fault, but we can take some blame for that," Mee says. The units weren't subjected to the city's code screening process (that process has now been changed) and were built as tax shelters.

She adds, "The product that was built lacked amenities and they were run by out-of-town landlords and they quickly deteriorated." Today, the city has designated five neighborhood initiative areas, using federal funds to condemn buildings, promote neighborhood involvement and eventually create infill housing. Mee says the city is also involved in a project at Third Street and Fillmore--a rough part of town near the Arizona Center--where a developer is considering building apartments. The city may donate all or part of the land, she says.

Michael Dollin--an urban designer and landscape architect who lived and worked in the Encanto neighborhood for many years--believes Phoenix needs a "much stronger, well-articulated program" to promote infill. Yes, he says, there's construction, but "nothing like what we ought to be having, given the real estate boom we're having."

Reed Krolof, associate editor of Architecture magazine in Washington, D.C., and former associate dean at ASU College of Architecture and Environmental Design, says, "It is crucial for infill to work if Phoenix is to transform itself into a first-class city, because it is not a first-class city now. And I think everybody knows that."

Cathie Yankovich loves living in the Roosevelt neighborhood, although she wishes she could fix up the outside of her house. She doesn't dare. "If you paint your house, you are a target for crime," she says by way of apologizing for the paint peeling from her big old house on Portland Street.

Roosevelt, bordered by Central and Seventh avenues and McDowell Road and Fillmore Street, was the first neighborhood in the city to be designated a national historic district. Some of the blocks have been fixed up; on others, houses are boarded up, and lots are filled with trash and transients.

Yankovich is a computer programmer, although that's just a day job--she's also an artist. She has long brown hair pulled back with a concoction of beads and macram‚. She's been a neighborhood activist for years, although not so much recently, and she hasn't even heard of Rimsza's pilot infill project. No one's applied to build any homes in Roosevelt through the project, although infill is certainly needed in the area. Years ago, Yankovich lived on Sixth Avenue near Roosevelt Street, in the garage of a duplex building. The garage is gone now, the duplex boarded up, and the adjacent lot is full of broken glass. "One of the neat things about being downtown is that whether you like your neighbors or not, you know them," Yankovich says. When empty lots exist, "the neighborhood starts being disjointed. . . . You don't have the socialization" or security of neighbors.

Roosevelt is in good shape compared with neighborhoods Louisa Stark works in. Stark, an archaeologist by training, founded the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership 11 years ago to promote housing in the poorer parts of the city. Like West Buckeye--bordered by Seventh Avenue, 19th Avenue, Buckeye Road and the freeway. According to the 1990 census, West Buckeye's median household income was $6,000, one-fifth the city's average. In West Buckeye, it's more common to see empty lots than houses. Lot after lot is filled with abandoned refrigerators, couches, toys, broken glass.

Stark knows about the city's work in the Garfield neighborhood (bounded by Seventh Street, 16th Street, Van Buren and I-10), where her office is located in a brown infill fourplex. Garfield is one of the five neighborhoods targeted for infill by the Neighborhood Services Department.

Yet Stark is not impressed. She steers her old blue Nissan pickup around the streets of Garfield, pointing out trash-filled empty lots, abandoned houses, an unpaved road.

"I think of empty lots in terms of streets missing teeth," she says. Ironically, "the city housing department, I think, has been quite good at condemning and demolishing houses, leaving empty lots, which then, quite frankly, as the new infill program is moving into more affluent areas, leaves these areas quite desolate."
Stark is critical of a number of elements of the pilot Infill Housing Program. She's shocked it allows entire subdivisions to be built, as opposed to homes built lot by lot, literally "filling in" an area.

She believes the infill map should be drastically condensed to the area bounded by Van Buren, Baseline Road, 16th Avenue and Seventh Street.

Stark herself has a two-bedroom house with one bathroom. She thinks the extra bathroom and other requirements of the infill program are unreasonable. In Garfield, people are forced to convert garages into bedrooms.

She says, "Some of the stipulations are just too tough to meet in neighborhoods where the housing is going to have to be kept less expensive."

Mark Stapp agrees with Stark, which is surprising, given that he has received subsidies through the infill program. Stapp is building that 22-home subdivision at Third Street and Osborn, in a neighborhood which, with a mean household income of $17,000, is one of the few low-income neighborhoods where a builder has cashed in on the infill program. He had planned the subdivision long before the pilot infill project was conceived, and originally intended to build homes for about $60,000. City requirements--including block fences and air conditioning--pushed the price per unit into the mid-$80,000s. And although Stapp has already sold 18 of the homes, he resents city politicians and staff who continually refer to his project as a model of the pilot infill program. He says they stood in the way of affordable housing.

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