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'They are attractive projects': Tempe Mayor Corey Woods applauds city's affordable housing initiatives

In January 2021, the Hometown for All initiative was unanimously approved by the city council. The plan was drafted in response to a 2018 study that revealed the need for approximately 11,000 additional affordable units by 2040 to match current demand and population growth. 

Seven months after entering office, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods developed a plan to construct affordable workforce housing in Tempe. 

“If we're gonna be a community that prides ourselves on inclusivity and diversity, people of all different backgrounds and income levels and occupations must be able to live in this community,” Woods said. 

Woods stressed the importance of not only setting a goal of increasing affordable housing but also obtaining a dedicated revenue stream to accomplish it, especially in what Woods described as a “landlocked city of approximately 42 square miles.” 

To generate funds, Tempe adopted a two-pronged plan. First, a portion of the permitting fees paid for commercial projects in Tempe would be redirected to Tempe’s Coalition for Affordable Housing. 

A voluntary system was also established, allowing developers to contribute to a fund dedicated to the cause. This voluntary aspect was needed, as Arizona law prohibits mandated contributions. According to Woods, nearly 99% of developers willingly donated to the cause. 

Since January, the Hometown For All initiative has aided in altering the perception of affordable housing by community members who live in Tempe. Woods describes the perception as evolving from being mainly negative to being quite neutral.

“They are high-quality projects, they are attractive projects, they are fully-occupied projects,” Woods said. “I think people look at them right now and go, ‘Hey, if that's what you're talking about, then bring on more.’”

Irma Hollamby Cain, the Deputy Community Health and Human Services Director for Tempe, elaborated on the scope and goals of the initiative.

“The initiative is helping elevate the conversation around affordable housing, not just in the City of Tempe but regionally and across the state,” Cain said. “We are bringing attention to the challenge that we all face as Arizonans regarding higher housing costs.”

Woods noted how developments like Encore on Farmer, Valor on Ace and Gracie's Village became integral parts of the community.

Since the initiative's inception, Woods cites several notable milestones. Among them, Woods highlighted a $10.7 million purchase of the former Food City grocery store. That  acquisition aimed  to develop affordable housing units, reintroduce a grocery option for the community, and prevent a food desert.

“They would build up to 400 units of mixed-income housing at that site,” Woods said. “It would be up to five stories in height, and they would also bring back a grocery option of some sort along with some other compatible retail.” Beyond this land acquisition, through this initiative, the city has successfully garnered over $6 million in cash, invested approximately $2.5 million to improve properties and purchase land, received $17.5 million pledged by developers for future projects, and spent over $1.7 million to purchase Watson’s Flowers on Apache Blvd. to build offices, housing for those who are unsheltered and a food pantry.

It’s critically important that we have a diversity of housing in Tempe,” Cain said. “That’s especially the case for people who work here – our teachers, hospitality workers, young professionals, and first responders. They should be able to live and work in Tempe.”

Highlighting the program's broader impact, Woods envisions a community where everyone can find a place to call home regardless of their background or income.

"The person who's teaching our kids how to read, write, or do arithmetic should have the ability to live in our community and not have to commute 45 minutes to an hour each way every single day,” Woods said. “If they're training and teaching the next generation to be successful, then they should have the ability to live here.”

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