Phoenix’s historic Coffelt-Lamoreaux Homes were going to be shuttered in 2012.
The state’s first affordable housing project built in 1953 for veterans returning from the Korean War had become too run down and unsafe for its 800 residents. Industrial developments around it were encroaching on the project.
If the 301 apartments closed, it was likely the nearby Arthur M. Hamilton Elementary School would close, too. About 75 percent of its students live in Coffelt-Lamoreaux, near 19th Avenue and Pima Street.
But the homes on the National Historic Register were saved, renovated and reopened to renters last month.
"We should never write off a neighborhood as too old or too rundown," said Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, District 5, at the grand reopening. "We can put our heads together, maximize our resources and figure out a way to make things better."
Rapidly rising apartment rents and home prices in metro Phoenix have made it more difficult for many to afford a roof over their heads.
In many parts of the central Valley, older affordable apartments have been torn down to make way for much pricier ones.
Phoenix landed on a list of the top 10 U.S. cities where it's the most difficult to afford the average rent while making the average wage. Thankfully, Phoenix only ranked ninth, with San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Denver ranking higher. But it's not a list metro Phoenix wants to be on.
Leaders, housing advocates and homebuilders are growing increasingly aware that the area needs more affordable housing.
Saving Coffelt-Lamoreaux was an important step, but it wasn't easy.
"The Coffelt-Lamoreaux Housing Project is one of the oldest remaining in Arizona, and we gave it a complete overhaul," said Brian Swanton, CEO of Gorman & Co.
Developer Gorman partnered with the Housing Authority of Maricopa County, the Arizona Department of Housing, the city of Phoenix and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to pool $49 million to redevelop the apartments.
Because the homes are on the Historic Register, the outsides couldn't be changed too much. But the insides needed to be gutted and renovated, with new flooring, plumbing, electrical, sinks, cabinets, appliances, doors, windows and heating.
A park and community center also were added. The project took almost six years to complete.
Lucio "Chief" Villalpando, 90, lived in Coffelt-Lamoreaux when the housing project was run down.
"It was rough," he said. "A lot of fights and arguments, and a lot of people struggling. Trying to get by."
The renovation has made "quite a difference," said Villalpando, who moved back in after his home had been redone. "They're awful nice now."
Rents vary at Coffelt and are based on 30 percent of residents' incomes.
Coffelt is the first public housing project in Arizona to use the Rental Assistance Demonstration program from HUD. It allows government-owned public housing sites to do public/private ownership deals to leverage more money for projects, said Rebecca Flanagan, former Arizona director of HUD.
It could be the first of more similar projects because Arizona needs the housing.
"The beauty of this project is that it maintains the feeling of community that's always been there at Coffelt, while also making significant improvements to residents' daily quality of life," said Gloria Munoz, executive director of Maricopa County's Housing Authority.
Villalpando and many other residents agree, and they and housing advocates wonder where the 800 people living there would have moved if Coffelt-Lamoreaux had been shut down instead of renovated.
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