When most people think of subsidized housing and Section 8 apartments, visions of drab slump block buildings set in an urban environment come to mind, not Neo-Spanish facades rising above the cotton fields and small town atmosphere of Northwest Marana.
That's certainly the case for some rural Marana neighbors, who are objecting vigorously to a faith-based group's plan to build an 80-unit apartment complex for people with low and moderate incomes amid the farmland and single family homes that predominate in their area.
The 5-acre complex of 10 two-story buildings, expected to rise next year on the west side of Lon Adams Road south of Grier Road, would be adjacent to one of Marana's oldest neighborhoods.
"We have a quiet, rural neighborhood here and this is something that belongs in a more urban setting," said resident Georgia Acker, a post office employee who has lived in Marana since 1967. "Is there a need for this up here? I don't see people on the street begging. This is bad for property values and the quality of life we've built up here. It's going to be the death knell for our neighborhood."
TMM Family Service, formerly known as Tucson Metropolitan Ministry, believes there is a need and hopes to break ground on the $6 million project by the end of this year. The project's developers and town of Marana officials say the apartments will be nothing like the stereotype of subsidized housing warrens, and tout the Southwestern architecture of the buildings, the mix of residents who will live there and the dire need for affordable housing in the town.
Terry Galligan, director of housing development for TMM, said although all of the units would be "income restricted," meaning residents would have a maximum ceiling on their earnings in order to qualify, only about 16 units of the complex would be set aside for the federally subsidized housing vouchers known as Section 8.
"We understand people's fears, but we have done similar projects without any substantial problems. And if problems do arise, they can rest assured that we will handle it. We're a private, non-profit company and have more latitude than government projects. If someone is not paying the rent or complying with the rules, we'll move for eviction. If there are crimes occurring, you can bet we will bring in the Marana police, which has its headquarters right around the corner, and then move for eviction," Galligan said.
Rents will range from $297 for a one bedroom apartment to $643 for a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment and will correspond to a tenants income, Galligan said.
TMM plans to build a child care facility in the complex after the apartments are completed and offer first-time home buyer assistance and counseling for single mothers, according to TMM's development plan.
In addition, Pima County is expected to offer mental health and substance abuse counseling at the apartment complex while the Arizona Department of Economic Security and other organizations provide literacy and employment programs, according to the development plan.
TMM was formed in Tucson in 1974 by local congregations of the United Methodist Church.
Gary Henley, who built his home on Grier Road in 1985, said he believes most of the area's residents would like to be "good neighbors" to the project, but many are concerned by conflicting information about the project.
"We understand that you can't fight progress, but I think they have to listen to our concerns and they need to keep us informed about what they're doing with this project," Henley said.
"They originally told us that there would be like housing going in on the property and then we find out it's low-income apartments. At no time did they say anything about Section 8 apartments. That's not appropriate for the kind of single family housing we have along Grier Road."
Marana officials say they understand the neighbors' concerns, but the town has a pressing need for subsidized housing and have placed the project on a fast track for completion.
"There are some people in the community that are against it," said Marana Community and Economic Director Dick Gear. "And I think that you find when you do a project like this, there are always people who are going to say 'Gee, I don't want this going up near me.' But I live at Skyline-Bel Aire (An upscale country club on Swan Road north of Tucson) and I can tell you that I would feel the same way. But here in Marana there is a need. So where do you put it? Wherever you put it, there's going to be objections."
According to the Marana Affordable Housing Plan the town drafted in February 2000, 65 percent of the residents in rural north Marana were living in substandard housing and 80 percent were classified as having low to moderate incomes.
The town's only other subsidized housing, the Don Frew Apartments on West Grier Road, had a waiting list of 45 families, the study found.
The rural North-west is slated to be Marana's next growth area, as cotton farmers struggling with de-pressed crop prices are selling fallow fields to developers, and federal protection of the endangered pygmy owl has slowed development in the eastern part of town.
Gear said the location of the apartments made sense because it's located near schools, the Marana Health Center and the town's park, and because it would serve to house low and middle income families who work for the Marana Unified School District's headquarters, the town of Marana's municipal complex or the Marana Comm-unity Correctional Treatment Facility prison - all of which are located within a few miles of the proposed apartments.
"People think, oh, there's going to be low income families coming in and there's going to be cars up on blocks and it's going to destroy my property values. Some people would automatically think that. But if the general population up here had a chance to see what this thing is going to look like and how TMM manages things, it's really going to be great," Gear said "The fear is about who is going to live in these units. You have some people who own their homes who don't want what they would consider trash living near them …. But we have low income families living in Honea Heights and Berry Acres (Marana neighborhoods) that are living in trailers that are really bad."
The apartments will be adjacent to a new town hall complex Marana hopes to break ground on this year.
Marana is contributing little in the way of funding for the project beyond waiving or reducing certain development fees, but has been assisting by speeding up the approval process, said Brian McDonnell, vice president of Indianapolis-based Englewood Development, TMM's general contractor for the complex.
"Marana's been wonderful in helping put this on the fast track because they know that we have pressing deadlines we have to meet for governmental funding. They also want to see this project completed fast because they know there's a desperate need for affordable housing in their community," McDonnell said.
According to documents obtained from TMM, $3.2 million in funding for the apartments came from the State of Arizona Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, $500,000 from federal funding, $250,000 from Pima County, and the almost $2 million from private sector loans.
Marana, also assisted by Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. sending a letter to Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull appealing for the $3.2 million in state housing tax credits after the project was passed over for funding in 2001, according to a copy of the letter obtained from the town.
"There are no available apartments in 'Old Marana' and this area is populated with many low income families who have worked for years farming this area. These workers have had to live in truly substandard conditions. We desperately want to change this and this project will be a step in that direction," Sutton wrote in his June 7, 2001 letter to Hull.
Ora Harn, former mayor of Marana and director emeritus of the Marana Health Center, said she's baffled by the Grier Road residents' reaction to the apartment plans.
"These are my neighbors, I know these people understand that there is a need up here. They know there are too many people living in substandard housing and I can't for the life of me understand why they would oppose it," said Harn, who has often advocated for the concerns of residents in the rural parts of Marana.