| Housing |

'Affordable' in Downtown Phoenix Now Includes $1,200 a Month for 400 Square Feet

Attorney Nick Wood presented this rendering to the Downtown Voices Coalition.EXPAND
Attorney Nick Wood presented this rendering to the Downtown Voices Coalition.
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How does $1,250 a month sound for a 400-square-foot apartment in Phoenix?

That's the basic pitch of a micro-housing development planned near Roosevelt Row. Attorney Nick Wood debuted the plans at a Downtown Voices Coalition meeting on Saturday, February 8. The coalition includes downtown community leaders and residents. Wood represents the developer, X-Enterprises, and says they hope to break ground on the project before the end of the year.

The plan calls for building a 16-story tower at 625 North Second Avenue, just two blocks west of the iconic Westward Ho building, near Fillmore Street. The tower would include nearly 400 units, plus retail and co-working space.

According to Wood, the project answers a need for affordability downtown.

“The cost of renting units downtown continues to rise at a very rapid rate and continues to squeeze many people out of the market,” he says. “This demographic is so underserved, it’s really tragic.”

So, how does the developer plan to meet the need for more affordability?

The design includes 390 micro-units, primarily studio and one-bedroom apartments. Approximately 60 to 65 percent of the units will be studios. The average size will be about 400 square feet, and rents will likely run $1,200 to $1,350.

Here's a snapshot of the developer's map showing the micro-housing location.EXPAND
Here's a snapshot of the developer's map showing the micro-housing location.
Lynn Trimble

The developer is asking the city for something called a Government Property Lease Excise Task (or GPLET), which would reduce the developer’s tax burden for a period of several years. It’s a tool the city sometimes uses to incentivize developers taking on costly projects.

That could be a tough sell. People who want to live downtown don’t necessarily have $1,350 to spend on rent every month.

“That’s more than my monthly mortgage,” says Rosemarie Dombrowski, an ASU professor and the city’s inaugural poet laureate.

“I’ve had multiple students complain that they’re being priced out of downtown, so they end up moving to less gentrified areas,” Dombrowski continues. “Nobody can afford that price tag, especially recent graduates or young working professionals.”

Dan Klocke, who heads the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, has a different perspective.

Klocke says that over 17 percent of downtown apartments qualify as “affordable housing” using the formal definition issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, only people who make less than 60 percent of the median income for a given area qualify for those units.

That leaves a lot of people looking for attainable housing, according to Sheila Harris, who co-chairs the social and housing advancement committee for a group called Phoenix Community Alliance. “No one should be paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent,” Harris says.

Using that logic, a person would need to make $45,000 a year to afford $15,000 a year in rent. And $15,000 is what people will be paying for 400-square-foot units in the new micro-housing development if rent is $1,250 a month.

That’s hardly affordable, says Dombrowksi. And it has far-reaching implications.

“We’re squeezing out the artists that helped make Roosevelt Row special, instead of making space for them,” Dombrowski says. “It’s all about money, investment, and capital now.”

Dombrowski laments the changes wrought by big developments and rising prices. “This used to be the place where people of all backgrounds and generations came together to experiment with ideas,” she says. “Now I see it as a bleeding ulcer.”

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