MORE

House Hold

Jeff Taylor: "I'll work with a guy for a year, and then he'll get discouraged by all the barriers in front of him. And then he'll fail."
Paolo Vescia

Nothing in Jeff Taylor's bearing suggests he was once a drug addict. He is well-dressed and well-spoken. He has the sinewy body of a state champion mountain bike racer, which he is.

Seven years ago, however, his bedroom was a shrub.

"It was a pretty nice bush," he says. "I knew it was nice because other people kept moving into it."

Taylor, 42, who had worked as a stock options trader, never met a mind-altering substance he didn't like. "Name a drug," he says, "I abused it."

He was a functioning addict for years. When he stopped functioning, he wound up under the bush. He was arrested for theft -- larceny to feed his habit -- and sent to prison.

Providence smiled on Taylor in the mid-'90s when he was released to a Salvation Army residential drug-rehabilitation program. He got religion, stayed off dope and soon found himself working at the rehab center, called Harbor Light.

He was on the road to success. He and a friend -- also an ex-druggie who worked at Harbor Light -- were clean. They were employed and had a roof over their heads, an apartment near 19th Avenue and Camelback Road. But five months into their tenancy, management of the apartment complex changed, and the new firm was part of the City of Phoenix's "Crime-Free Housing" program.

This program, one of many dubious city policies that inhibit affordable-housing opportunities, prohibits apartment developers that rely on some federal programs from renting to anyone convicted of a felony in the preceding 10 years.

Taylor and his roommate faced eviction. In fact, the restriction applied to neither of them because they had successfully completed all conditions of their sentences and, consequently, had had their crimes reclassified as misdemeanors.

Taylor scrambled to convince anyone of this fact. "I probably made stops at 10 different offices to rectify this," he says.

"Most people are not going to be as tenacious as I was."

In the four years since, Taylor has been transformed. He's married and has a fine young son. He's dedicated his life to helping others. He's director of Grace Place, which hopes to open soon as the county's only long-term residential drug rehab program for indigents. (Harbor Light closed its doors last summer.)

Other felons who are struggling to turn their lives around aren't so fortunate.

"If you try to get a nice apartment, and you have the money, you can't get in," says Taylor, whose clients at Grace Place include many ex-convicts. "That person's going to say, 'What's the use of trying?'

"I'll work with a guy for a year, and then he'll get discouraged by all the barriers in front of him. And then he'll fail."

Louisa Stark, director of the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership, has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine whether the city's Crime-Free Housing policy violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which was enacted to combat housing discrimination. HUD, in turn, has asked Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano to investigate, and she is.

Studies show that people convicted of felonies are predominantly young black and Latino men, Stark says. These people are to be protected by the act. In addition, many people who wind up in prison are mentally ill, who are also supposed to enjoy protection under the Fair Housing Act.

Stark notes that felons can emerge from prison with their rights -- voting, jury duty, elective office -- fully restored.

"The one right that is not restored here in Phoenix is the right to have a place to live," Stark wrote to HUD in February.

She calls the Crime-Free Housing program "egregious," and she notes that the rules often prevent husbands from reuniting with wives and fathers from living with their children. If families do intend to live together, the requirements send them hopscotching across the landscape, seeking a place that will take them all.

And it's not just hardened thugs who are affected. A second conviction for driving under the influence is now a felony.

Mark Stodola, programs director for the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department, believes the policy powers a vicious cycle -- one that's especially difficult for the many ex-cons who also suffer from mental illness.

"If someone is mentally ill with a felony, then they don't qualify for any of the affordable housing that's available, which means they are going to end up in the shelter or on the street, and it just continues to perpetuate itself," Stodola says. ". . . Those individuals who are doing positive things, doing drug treatment, making amends to the community, still have those restrictions to deal with.

"There definitely are some unintended consequences. To a certain extent, I think the community is inhibiting their ability to become productive members of the community."

 

The state's Housing Commission asserts that we are on the cusp of "an impending crisis." The panel reports housing costs are growing at twice the rate of incomes. Some 200,000 families in Arizona -- comprising perhaps one million people -- are spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Any family spending more than 30 percent of its income on housing is considered "distressed." One of every four households in Maricopa County falls into this category.

The Legislature has taken note of the trend, and has created a separate housing department. The state office of Housing and Community Development is currently a division of the Commerce Department.

The state stands ready to assist those communities that want assistance.

"A lot of how this problem is addressed is really local leadership issues," says Steve Capobres, who heads the state's housing division. "The state is there to help local government address the issue, if they want our help. The leadership really comes locally."

"It's an invisible crisis," says James Feltham, president of the nonprofit Family Housing Resources, which provides support services for agencies creating affordable housing. "You see it but you don't see it. You have a sense it's out there, but it's hard to get your arms around.

"To really achieve effective affordable housing, the local politicians, everyone from the board of supervisors to the city councils, housing needs to come on their screen," adds Feltham, who in a February letter chastised the City of Phoenix for "seriously undermining any contractors going forward . . . to develop affordable housing."


Advocates insist that the greatest impediment to development of affordable housing in Phoenix is the City of Phoenix itself. It's an afterthought for the putative policymakers on the city council. Phoenix's city charter bestows tremendous power on city management, and those managers pay lip service to the needs of the poorest Phoenicians.

The Crime-Free Housing program is but one patch in a crazy quilt of city policies that undermine efforts to resolve the affordable-housing deficiency. Individually, these policies seem lucid. But they create gaping holes in the broader fabric, and stand as impediments to the primary goal -- to get the neediest and most vulnerable citizens off the streets, out of homeless shelters and into stable environments.

Some of these frequently competing policies include:

• A 40 percent limit on affordable apartment units that some developers can include in a new complex. This restriction applies to the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which is widely viewed as the best affordable housing development inducement. The restriction applies even to nonprofit agencies, which are increasingly emerging as the entities most effective in narrowing the affordable-housing gap. This city policy impedes construction of new affordable apartment units, yet Phoenix (unlike such municipalities as San Jose, California, and Boulder, Colorado) makes no requirement that developers of market-rate apartments include any affordable units.

Records show that since the federal program was launched, Tucson, which is a third the size of Phoenix, has used tax credits to complete 34 affordable-housing projects. Phoenix has completed only 12 -- a sum equaled by the combined efforts of the metropolises of Kingman and Bullhead City. Mesa has built 10.

• A downtown development plan that caps affordable housing at 30 percent of the total. Trouble is, the current ratio of affordable downtown housing is 47 percent. Such a guideline bodes ill for any city initiative to create reasonable housing opportunities in the city core, where significant numbers of service- and hospitality-industry workers are needed.

The downtown housing policy, adopted in May 2000 by the city council, directs management to "add 1,500 new high end or market rate apartments and 500 new ownership housing units in the next five years. Add assisted or affordable units [if] the percentage of assisted or affordable units . . . drops below 30 percent of the total housing units and beds."

When I point out this incongruity to Manuel Gonzales, director of the city Housing Department, he remarks, "You make a good point."

• Empowerment of neighborhoods. Phoenix should be lauded for its efforts to inform and involve residents in neighborhood issues, including development. Yet such zeal serves as a double-edged sword. Nobody wants affordable housing in their neighborhood -- even if the neighborhood is already blighted. The city once required developers proposing affordable housing to notify every neighborhood association within one mile of the construction site, all but guaranteeing a popular uprising. The city quickly rescinded the rule.

Xenophobic neighbors mobilized against a new residential treatment facility in a west-side neighborhood demanded that the city require children living there to attend the Thomas J. Pappas school for homeless children instead of neighborhood schools. Fortunately, even city staff was able to resist this prevailing wind.

 

• Administrative Balkanization. In Phoenix, three distinct departments -- Housing, Community and Economic Development, and Neighborhood Services -- all dabble in affordable housing. This inevitably leads to policies that conflict and work at cross-purposes. In Tucson, whose affordable-housing program puts Phoenix's to shame, all housing questions are handled by a single department.

"We feel like our structure, where we have housing and community development in a single department, has been really beneficial for both areas," says Emily Nottingham, Tucson's assistant director of Community Services. "It allows us to be more flexible and take somewhat of a broader view."

Feltham of Family Housing Resources laments, "There's so many policies swirling around."

For more than a decade, Phoenix has been guided by its Low Income Housing Dispersion Policy. Its intent is to scatter affordable housing and to prevent concentrations in any one area. During a city-sponsored forum on affordable housing in September, participants agreed that the policy had discouraged concentrations, but had done little to create affordable housing in areas that currently lack it.

In its defense, Phoenix has always been expected to shoulder the heaviest burden when it comes to services for the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug-addled. City officials frequently -- and justifiably -- complain about the inertia displayed by other Valley cities and towns.

"It costs money," says Phoenix Councilman Phil Gordon. "If everyone in the Valley wants Phoenix to be the recipient of 100 percent of affordable housing, then everybody needs to pony up."

But such provincialism offers little consolation to the tens of thousands of families who are paying too much of meager incomes for housing. It means they can't get a car, feed their children adequately, or have health care or day care.

Affordable housing is an afterthought among city aspirations. The holy grail for city management and Mayor Skip Rimsza is expansion of the Phoenix Civic Plaza and the downtown's convention business. They would rather abuse city ordinances to build opulent but money-losing parking garages to house automobiles than invest in decent places to house human beings. They cut an illegal back-room deal to commit nearly $100 million in city funds and guaranteed loans for new hotels. Fortunately, the courts intervened to halt this raid on the treasury.

Don Cardon, the city Housing Department's deputy director, says that city programs led to creation of 2,300 units of affordable housing in fiscal 1999-2000. But this figure is misleading, because the lion's share were financed by the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority, through the issuance of bonds. The IDA program is not restricted to low- and moderate-income families, nor is it even restricted to projects built within Phoenix. I won't denigrate the IDA program -- it's a good one -- but the IDA is a government unto itself, and the city should not rely on it to be its primary affordable-housing financier.

Affordable-housing development is an arcane science, a blur of acronyms and mind-numbing criteria. Quantifying the effort is difficult. That's why HUD and the state have launched a comprehensive study designed to create methods for broad assessment of local government programs. The goal is to identify the affordable-housing needs in each community. That study is due late this year.

Phoenix's own goals for utilization of federal affordable-housing funds for fiscal 1999-2000 were anemic: "127 home ownership opportunities and [development of] 230 additional rental housing units."

By comparison, Tucson -- which gets only half as much in federal housing dollars -- has increased the number of affordable units by more than 1,000 for each of the past five years. This performance is over and above Tucson's IDA housing program, and is in addition to the 600 to 700 units that were being developed each year before the city council there acknowledged its affordable-housing gap and made its development a priority.

"We've definitely seen Tucson be more aggressive than any other city, trying to make these projects happen," says state housing chief Capobres.

Terry Goddard, the former Phoenix mayor who now serves as state coordinator for HUD, is a frequent critic of Phoenix's affordable-housing program.

"I think there are reasons for concern that the city is not using federal resources to the maximum extent possible, and that there are local regulations and procedures -- not just in Phoenix but in many cities in Arizona -- that make it much more expensive to build housing," Goddard says.


John Richardson had a horrific childhood. His drunkard father abused him mercilessly.

"I got beat every day -- boards, rubber hoses," Richardson says. "He gave me a head injury when I was 14 months old."

 

By the time Richardson was old enough to enlist in the Army, dark pathologies of his youth had overwhelmed him. Rather than try to mold a functioning soldier, the Army gave him an honorable discharge after 11 months and 11 days.

Since then, Richardson, 46, has been in and out of psychiatric wards, jails and shelters. He's been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, bipolar tendencies, depression and posttraumatic stress syndrome. He's profoundly dyslexic and has myriad chronic physical problems as well. He used to work when he could as a carpenter. Today, he is disabled.

He became a felon in 1999, when he pleaded guilty to three drug charges. He was given six years' probation and ordered into a drug treatment program. But his demons always drew him back to the pipe. He left the state, got clean and returned to pay his debt to society. After 16 days in the county jail, he took up residence at the Central Arizona Shelter Services facility on West Madison Street.

He slipped up once when a fellow shelter resident offered him some crack cocaine. Not long thereafter, he cashed his social security check and promptly got mugged -- blindsided, knocked unconscious and robbed of $585 in cash. He spent the next three days cowering among the freight cars in the nearby rail yard.

If he was ever going to get his life in order, Richardson needed a safe place to stay. His probation officer got him into the Garfield Center with the understanding that ValueOptions, the agency that administers care for the county's indigent mentally ill, would find him decent housing within six to eight weeks. But placing a mentally ill felon is not an easy task, thanks in large part to the Crime-Free Housing program.

"They treat you like an 'it,'" Richardson says. "They don't treat you like a human being."

Nobody would take him. His stay at the Garfield Center stretched from August to January of this year, when officials at the Garfield Center told him they had no choice but to evict him. He was down to his last day, and had nowhere to go. A return to the homeless shelter loomed. At the last possible instant, a housing location service found him a spartan one-bedroom apartment on West Northern Avenue.

Richardson knows he's fortunate. He's met mentally ill felons who have been waiting for housing for two years. He's obtained a driver's license, though he has nothing to drive. He's recuperating from surgery on his wrist, and when it's strong enough, he hopes to begin attending vocational classes to learn a new trade.

He has two children he never sees, so depression is a constant companion.

"I sit in this apartment and cry all weekend," he says.

At least he's got an apartment to cry in.

Disabled people like Richardson are supposed to be protected by the federal Fair Housing Act.

On March 1, Terry Goddard sent Attorney General Janet Napolitano a detailed critique of Phoenix's housing policies and asked the prosecutor to determine whether Phoenix was in compliance with the act.

Among 14 questionable policies he cited was a city rule that requires that all inner city "infill" homes have attached garages and automatic watering systems -- even though desert landscaping is mandatory. The rules add $8,000 to $10,000 to the price of an infill house, Goddard says.

"Taken together, these policies make affordable housing development and the providing of new social services in Phoenix difficult if not impossible," Goddard wrote.

The AG's Office responded by meeting with two city councilmen, and has asked for more information from the city. "We're actively pursuing it," says Dennis Burke, chief deputy AG.

Phil Gordon, who sat in on that meeting, is convinced the city is in compliance.

"Our city attorneys have reviewed every one of Terry's points," Gordon says. "They categorically say there isn't any violation of the law. If there are, then we will correct them."

Ironically, the city's nettlesome 40 percent limit on tax credits for affordable housing was enacted when Goddard was Phoenix's mayor. And Goddard's administration energized neighborhood activism, which is now seen as a hindrance to efforts to expand affordable housing.

Goddard says he acknowledged that the 40 percent rule was a mistake long ago, and has been urging the city to change the policy for years.

Steve Capobres of the state housing office concedes that the 40 percent rule makes Phoenix less attractive to developers. "That's why we hear that developers would rather go to other cities," he says.

The city council has waived the 40 percent limit on several recent projects.

 

But Jacki Taylor, director of the nonprofit United Methodist Outreach Ministries, felt the brunt of the 40 percent rule -- and hostile neighbors -- when her agency proposed an 80-unit facility at 18th Street and Van Buren. Eighty percent of the apartments were to be affordable, and UMOM had arranged to sell $4 million in tax credits to provide equity for the project and keep rents very low.

It was UMOM's first attempt to build new affordable housing.

"It was kind of baptism by fire," Taylor says. "There was tremendous, tremendous neighborhood opposition, and, at times, that got to feeling pretty personal. In that neighborhood, can you believe? We thought we were investing new dollars into the Van Buren corridor."

The city heeded the hue and cry from the neighbors, and refused to waive the 40 percent limit.

"It was really disappointing, and particularly when we see the need for housing that targets low-income families," Taylor says. "For us it was particularly heart-wrenching to have to give up those dollars."

UMOM forfeited $2 million in tax credit equity and downsized its project to 64 units, with only 26 percent of them affordable. To keep the project afloat, the city wound up granting it $1 million in federal funds that could have gone to other affordable-housing projects.

"The city has put a lot of work into organizing the neighborhood associations, and that's a really good thing," Taylor says. "But the pendulum has really swung way over to one side. I think they border on swinging too much to one side when a neighborhood has the potential to literally halt the development of affordable housing in the community."

Taylor isn't certain if UMOM will attempt another affordable-housing project.

"I think where I'm at is, let's get this done first and then see where we go," she says. "Our hope would be that out of this there would be a modest developer's fee that we could hang onto and use for subsequent development of projects.

"I'm also a firm believer that you should never waste the gift of knowledge that you've acquired."


Sponsor Content