Housing for Low-Income and Homeless in Mesa
La Mesita Apartments, situated on the Valley Metro Rail line, fulfills many of Mesa’s transit-oriented development objectives. Credit: Architectural Resource Team La Mesita Apartments is the most recent effort to address the needs of homeless individuals and cost-burdened renters in Mesa, the third-largest city in Arizona located just 15 miles east of Phoenix. According to the 2012 American Community Survey, approximately half of Mesa’s renters spent 30 percent or more of their income on rent and utilities. Although the city’s 2014 Point in Time count recorded only 55 homeless people on the streets — that’s still a 31 percent increase from 2013 — the scarce supply of affordable rentals puts low-income households at further risk of homelessness. In addition to providing affordable housing for low-income families and the chronically homeless, La Mesita Apartments offers numerous supportive services to foster self-sufficiency for residents. The first phase of the development’s three-phase construction plan opened in March 2014, comprising 80 of the 126 total units planned for the La Mesita campus.
From a Motor Lodge to a Campus of New Apartments and Services
The site of La Mesita Apartments once housed a 1940s motor lodge. A New Leaf, a nonprofit that provides housing and services in the Phoenix area, converted it to a shelter for homeless families in 1991. In 2012, faced with the need for substantial repairs to the building, A New Leaf demolished the shelter and began anew.
La Mesita’s newly completed first phase created 14 new apartments reserved for households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), 36 for households earning up to 50 percent of AMI, and 30 for households making 30 percent of AMI. Monthly rents range from $330 to $1,098, depending on household size. These units include 12 studios and 24 one-bedroom, 20 two-bedroom, 20 three-bedroom, and 4 four-bedroom apartments located in 3 buildings. Thirty of these apartments (10 studios, 18 one-bedrooms and 2 two-bedrooms) provide permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Rents for these apartments are funded in part through project-based vouchers from Mesa — the first such vouchers the city has ever offered. Eligible residents must earn 50 percent or less of AMI ($30,950 for a family of four).
The complex, which is fully rented, includes a daycare center, community center, gym, and counseling center, as well as office space for services to help residents achieve long-term stability. These onsite services include case management, legal aid, and support for domestic violence survivors. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is present to work with veterans; for children, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and other groups provide art and pet therapy and Maricopa County’s Head Start program holds classes at the complex. Courses in financial literacy are available for adult residents, and a workforce development coach helps residents find jobs and training and teaches them the basic computer skills needed to apply for jobs online. The coach also connects residents with tutoring for the General Educational Development test.
The goal of these programs, explains Torrie Taj, A New Leaf’s deputy chief executive officer, is “to make sure everyone is as self-sufficient as they can be.” La Mesita residents are not expected to transition to housing elsewhere, though some may choose to. “Some residents will be in those supportive units for a long time. We want to meet residents’ needs, both short- and long-term."
Phase 1 of La Mesita offers its residents an array of onsite services including a workforce development lab, financial counseling, case management, and Head Start programs. Credit: Architectural Resource Team Sustainability: Transit-Oriented Development and LEED Platinum Certification
La Mesita is located about a half-mile from Valley Metro Rail’s Sycamore/Main Street transit center, offering residents access to jobs and services in Phoenix and elsewhere in the region. In designing the transit-oriented development, Architectural Resource Team included features that support walkability. For example, the front building is located at the sidewalk, along with a small landscaped plaza, and parking is at the back of the development. Tammy Albright, Mesa’s director of Housing and Community Development, says that La Mesita fits into the city’s plans for transit-oriented development, which will include a balance of affordable and market-rate housing, as well as destinations for employment and shopping.
The complex achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Homes for Platinum certification through its location near transit; high-efficiency appliances, lighting, moisture control and ventilation; and diversion of 75 percent of construction waste from landfills.
Continuing Investments in Supportive Housing
Development costs for the first phase totaled $14.7 million. Funding included $12.1 million in low-income housing tax credits, $1.2 million from the Utah Community Reinvestment Corporation, a $500,000 interest-free loan from the City of Mesa, and $800,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco.
The second phase of La Mesita is slated to open in April 2015. This phase, consisting of 16 units, will be the only emergency shelter facility that accepts families with children in the Phoenix region’s East Valley. In addition to $4.2 million for capital improvements, costs for the second phase will include $3.2 million for programming and $4 million for La Mesita’s endowment. To fund this phase, A New Leaf has received $1.5 million in community development block grant funds from the city. The rest of the funding will come from philanthropic support, about half of which had been raised as of January 2015.
The organization is currently putting together funding applications for the third phase of the development, which will add 16 permanent supportive housing units. This phase is still in the planning stage, but A New Leaf estimates that it will cost $7.5 million.
Albright explains that La Mesita’s housing and services for low-income households and the homeless will help address two of Mesa’s housing priorities. According to the city’s draft consolidated plan, Mesa’s greatest housing problem is the number of residents paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. La Mesita’s Housing First approach to homelessness — providing housing immediately and then determining the services that homeless individuals and families need — saves the city money that it would otherwise have to spend on emergency room visits, public safety, and other services.
City of Mesa. 2014. “Draft 2015–2019 Consolidated Plan and 2015 Annual Action Plan: Mesa, Arizona (website content has changed and this document is no longer available),” 27, 66. Accessed 22 December 2014; City of Mesa. 2014. “Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (website content has changed and this document is no longer available).” Accessed 13 January 2015; Documents provided by Kevin Christopher, City of Mesa Public Information and Communications; Interview with Torrie Taj, deputy chief executive officer of A New Leaf, 15 January 2015.×
Interview with Torrie Taj, deputy chief executive officer of A New Leaf, 15 January 2015.×
Correspondence from Shay Meinzer, director of real estate development and asset management at A New Leaf, 27 January 2015; Facebook. 2015. “La Mesita Apartments.” Accessed 15 January 2015; Correspondence from Doug McCord, principal and director of design of Architectural Resource Team, 26 January 2015; Interview with Torrie Taj, deputy chief executive officer of A New Leaf, 15 January 2015; Interview with Tammy Albright, director of City of Mesa Housing and Community Development Division, 21 January 2015; Kevin Christopher. 2014. “Grand opening for La Mesita Apartments in Mesa,” City of Mesa (31 March). Accessed 20 January 2015; City of Mesa Housing Authority. 2014. “Public Notice: Waitlist Opening for Project-Based Voucher Program — La Mesita Apartments (website content has changed and this document is no longer available).” Accessed 16 January 2015.×
Interview with Torrie Taj, deputy chief executive officer of A New Leaf, 15 January 2015; Documents provided by Doug McCord, principal and director of design at Architectural Resource Team.×
Interview with Torrie Taj, 15 January 2015.×
Interview with Torrie Taj, January 15, 2015; Interview with Doug McCord, principal and director of design at Architectural Resource Team, 21 January 2015; Interview with Tammy Albright, 21 January 2015.×
Interview with Doug McCord, principal and director of design at Architectural Resource Team, 21 January 2015; Documents provided by Doug McCord, 21 January 2015.×
Documents provided by Elizabeth Kinsfather, administrative assistant at A New Leaf, 15 January 2015; Correspondence with Shay Meinzer, director of real estate development and asset management at A New Leaf, 21 January 2015.×
Interview with Torrie Taj, January 15, 2015; Documents provided by Elizabeth Kinsfather, administrative assistant at A New Leaf, 15 January 2015.×
Correspondence with Shay Meinzer, director of real estate development and asset management at A New Leaf, 21 January 2015.×
Interview with Tammy Albright, 21 January 2015; City of Mesa. “Draft 2015–2019 Consolidated Plan and 2015 Annual Action Plan (website content has changed and this document is no longer available),” 25. Accessed 22 December 2014.×