How Should Phoenix Spend $130 Million? You Can Weigh In

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 3:16pm

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people sitting in chairs talking in groups
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Groups work together to ranks areas based on need.

Over the next five years, Phoenix expects to get about $130 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But before the city can collect, it must gather community input.

How Can It Be Spent?

It’s a Wednesday night at the Maryvale Community Center near 51st Avenue and Camelback Road. Erica Snyder is explaining the city’s consolidated plan.

“The Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD requests that we put this together every five years and develop goals to address the needs of the community,” she said.

About two dozen people are listening.

“The way these goals are created are by citizens and residents showing up to these meetings, as well as taking the online survey to let us know what they see as needs and that then structures how these funds are invested over the next five years,” Snyder said.

woman talking to people seated in audience
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Housing and Urban Development requires the city to gather community input when creating its five-year consolidated plan.

The money comes from four federal grants — three focus on housing assistance for low income households, people living with HIV/AIDS and people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless without immediate help. The last grant is the largest, estimated to be more than $80 million over five years. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) can be used a variety of ways to support what Phoenix often refers to as low-to-moderate income neighborhoods.

What Are Income Guidelines?

For these HUD grants, household income must be less than $41,000 for one-person, less than $47,000 for two people and under $59,000 for a family of four.

Snyder directs the attendees to break into small groups where they will rank seven areas in order of need. Andrea McCoy’s top pick is infrastructure.

“The streets,” she said. “A lot of the streets around here need work, the sidewalks. This is an older neighborhood and it needs a lot of work all over the place.”

There’s also a lot of talk about housing for lower-income people. One woman said, “We have a lot of them in our neighborhood and you would not know the difference. They’re mixed in with market rate.”

Addressing homelessness is important, another woman says, while raising concerns about drugs and blight she attributes to low-income housing. 

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What Does It Mean To Be Housing Burdened?

Housing costs have been rising faster than wages. If you spend more than 30% of your income on housing costs — that means rent or a mortgage, insurance, utilities and real estate taxes — the federal government says you are housing burdened. Across Maricopa and Pinal counties, 24.4% of homeowners are housing burdened. For renters, it’s 49.2%.

The worksheet lists the following areas that participants are supposed to rank as a group: affordable housing, homelessness housing and services, community facilities, social and public services, infrastructure, services for those with special needs and job creation and/or support to small businesses.

One man writes a number five next to job creation and said, “I put it ahead of some of these others because I feel that if people have the opportunities to work and places to work that a lot of the problems are diminished.”

The only person who pushes for more community facilities — like recreation centers, parks and libraries — is Ima Jean Dolan. She represents a neighborhood group between 35th and 43rd avenues from Glendale to Northern avenues. Dolan tells Maryvale residents they’re lucky.

“You have the beautiful facilities for your youth and your families. We have zero, zip, nada. Nothing,” she said. “We have lots of empty buildings so, you know, our community facilities are really, really important to our area.”

She brings up another burden from her community that’s not on the worksheets or mentioned as a funding option.

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“We’re holding strong right now, but it’s only because of community leaders. And, as you can see, I’m old, other community leaders are older and there’s not any new blood that’s taking over, and so we have a lot of concerns for what is our neighborhood going to look like in the future,” she said.

With her mind on the future, Dolan writes a one on a bright yellow sticker. She places it under a column labeled "community facilities." Everyone gets four stickers to mark their personal priorities.

At this gathering, the most stickers appear under a column titled "home improvement programs for low income homeowners or seniors" with a tie for second between improving streets and alleyways and planting trees and improving landscapes.

It’s a scene that plays out at five other community meetings. An online survey is also open to all residents through Nov. 25.

Last time Phoenix went through this mandatory process, they heard from 502 people. So far, more than 600 have completed the survey. The city has more than 1.6 million residents.

man and woman looking at paper with columns
Christina Estes/KJZZ
People review priority areas for HUD spending at Maryvale Community Center on Nov. 6, 2019.

How To Provide Input

An online survey in English and Spanish is available through Nov. 25, 2019. You can also submit feedback on Phoenix's Neighborhood Services Department's Facebook page or on their website. You can also call 602-534-4444.

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