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Supportive Housing for E. Van Buren Corridor

Credit: City of Phoenix

By Jane Stewart and Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Once Phoenix’s most notorious red-light district, a section of Van Buren Street now has the green light for a supportive housing development.

Cardinal Capital Management | AHI has submitted a rezoning request, via Architectural Resources Team, for 2.21 acres located at the SWC of 29th Street and Van Buren Street. This vacant parcel is currently zoned as C-3 (General Commercial) and R-5 (Multifamily Residence District). The request is to rezone to “WU Code (Walkable Urban Core) T5:3 GWY (Transect 5:3 Gateway Character Area) to allow multi-family housing.”

The project, El Molino Place Supportive Housing, would be a 31.3KSF, “Four-story wood framed multifamily residence (including) an amenity space (proposed) in the courtyard area of the building.” Under the provisions on the proposed site plan, the total number of units is 148.

Supportive Housing, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “Links decent, safe, affordable, community-based housing with flexible, voluntary support services designed to help the individual or family stay housed and live a more productive life in the community.” The applicant is also “applying for Low Income Housing Tax Credits… which requires properties to remain affordable for at least 30 years.”

Solutions a Long Time in the Making

Van Buren was at one point one of Phoenix’s main cultural and lifestyle centers. It’s positioning followed the city’s northward expansion and made it a hub for the pre-Interstate travel and car culture. After the construction of Interstate 10, however, the zone experienced a long, steady and deep decline.

By the 1970s and well into the 2000s, the once postcard-quality hotels and motels that made Van Buren a preferred stop for travelers in the early days had become the region’s most pernicious “prostitution stroll”, particularly between 44th and 20th streets. Many motels went to hourly rates, and some were completely occupied by pimps and other criminal organizations.

While it took decades to formulate a structured approach to revitalizing the area, planners never fully gave up on The East Van Buren Corridor, as it is known in official circles. The first redevelopment plan was submitted in 1973, and with the publication of The East Van Buren Corridor Assessment in 2003, a comprehensive overview was finally in place.

What Happens Next?

The project site is located within the Gateway Transit Oriented Development District between, “The Union Pacific Railroad on the south, Loop 202 on the north, Interstate 10 on the west and State Route 143 on the east.” The Transit Oriented Development Strategic Policy Framework, also known as Reinvent PHX, “Is a collaborative program committed to developing walkable, opportunity-rich communities connected to light rail.”

The Gateway TOD Policy Plan outlines multiple needs and targeted approaches to redevelopment of several Phoenix neighborhoods – including East Van Buren – using transportation development and expansion as an economic development springboard.

This program, “Is a part of the city’s General Plan which identified planning typologies to describe urban environments.” Affordable housing projects, such as El Molino Place Supportive Housing, “Supports the TOD Strategic Policy Framework and the Gateway TOD Policy Plan.”

The original assessment notes the significantly higher crime and lower income levels in the Van Buren area. That low-income level, the assessment states, makes the area, “Unable to support neighborhood retail activity and market rate housing.” The assessment also notes the corridor generally has shallow lot depths, multiple land owners and incompatible historical development patterns set too close to one another to enable fully comprehensive action all at once. “Revitalization efforts need to focus on smaller area and show incremental success.”

El Molino Place

Under the TOD Action Plan 2015-2020 framework, Land Use, Housing, Health, Economic Development, Mobility, and Green Systems are all targeted areas for investment and resource focus. In the plan’s Housing subsection, “Identify an affordable housing project within the corridor,” is the first line item.

The proposed site is a snapshot of the overall area, showing both opportunity and challenge. According to the staff report, “The subject site is vacant. Across Van Buren Street to the north is an old motor court motel. Vacant land and an adult use exist to the east across 29th Street. There is a mix of single and multifamily residential to the south along Monroe Street, and single-family residences to the west.”

If executed as currently planned, El Molino will stand out among the current properties. Set in warm earth tones and light neutrals with balconies, the building has frontage to three streets, Van Buren Street to the north, 29th Street to the east, and Monroe street to the south. Both vehicular and bicycle on-site parking will be available and the project will be bordered by a landscaped buffer.

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