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Historic Phoenix Public Housing Project Slated For Demolition Gets New Beginning

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 9:08pm
Updated: Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 9:17pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Construction has begun to redevelop the Coffelt-Lamoreaux public housing development in south Phoenix.

We hear a lot about historic preservation in Phoenix these days, when it comes to historic skyscrapers and mansions, but not as often when it comes to dilapidated affordable housing projects.

Now, a 38-acre public housing project in south Phoenix called Coffelt-Lamoreaux that was facing demolition is being saved and renovated thanks to a deal between the County and a private developer.

“Not many people know it’s here, but it’s really a small city,” said Brian Swanton, Arizona market president for Gorman and Company, the company that’s redeveloping the property.

Coffelt-Lamoreaux was built in 1954 as low-income housing, and, when it’s full, almost 800 people live there.

“It’s really showing its age,” Swanton said.

He said the buildings are pretty solid, with concrete walls, but they have old swamp coolers that are inefficient and use a lot of water. There are also cracks in the walls.

“We have streets with potholes so large you could lose a small car in some of them!” he said.

A few years ago, the area was slated to be demolished. However, there are about 300 people living there. Swanton said they did a health impact assessment with the residents and it became very clear that they didn’t want to leave.

“Who are we to tell 300 households that no you have to move someplace else in the Valley?” he asked. “So, we felt it was our responsibility to try and preserve this property on behalf of the residents who want it to stay.”

Instead of misplacing the residents, the Maricopa County Housing Authority sold the project into a public-private housing partnership with Gorman and Company, a for-profit real estate development group that works with local governments to redevelop workforce housing across the state.

They got the site listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and they’ve come up with $44 million to renovate it.

The project is the also first in the state to use a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pilot program called the Rental Assistance Demonstration program that’s designed to save projects like this across the country.

According to Swanton, aging public housing projects are a growing problem across the country. HUD reports there is a $26 billion nationwide backlog of deferred maintenance on public housing properties.

“We need to find modern solutions to that problem,” Swanton said, “or else they’re going to simply crumble and be lost to the affordable housing stock all together.”

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