Saturday, November 16, 2013

Senior Housing in Laveen

Firstly, we need more senior housing in the 85339. This thought occurred to me as I drove down Baseline about a week ago and saw a couple of elderly folks on their electric scooters headed to the park and ride facility at 27th Avenue. Not only was I surprised to see people using that facility, I was reminded as well that the major influx of new Laveen residents tends to be young families, so we may have to remind ourselves every once in a while to offer resources as well for our elders. Then I started doing the calculations in my head and realized that the closest senior housing facilities that I know are:

Amber Pointe (independent housing on 7th Ave. and Broadway)
Maravilla Care Center (nursing care on 7th St. and South Mountain)
Life Care Center at South Mountain (assisted living near 7th St. and Baseline)

There are a few more home-based facilities scattered around the area, mostly toward the east of Laveen (as are those three above) and some places downtown. There is a plan to bring senior/assisted living to the NWC of 51st Ave. and Baseline (you know, supposedly "farm" land, where crops all too often go to die so that the owner can keep a low tax basis on vacant land -- no offense, but that's how it appears). I would strongly support this property owner's efforts if it means bringing more activity and resources to this intersection soon. That said, I remain skeptical yet hopeful after having watched this site for the last eight-plus years sitting in waiting for a developer. Now that they are working on entitlements with the city, however, there must be hope after all.

2010 census data tells us the following about the area:

Total Population: 35,586
30-54 Population: 13,020 (36.6%)
55+ Population: 4,300 (12%)

Total Population: 54,947
30-54 Population: 18,046 (32.9%)
55+ Population: 7,556 (13.8%)

That's a total of 90,533 people in these two ZIP codes (for comparison's sake, the city of Goodyear has a total population of 65,275). Of those 90,000 residents, 11,856 (13%) are 55+ and another 31,066 (34%) are in the 30-54 age group. This means that there's a total market of almost 12,000 residents who may soon be looking at retirement options that might include senior housing, plus another  31,000 who may need nearby senior housing options for their parents in the next two decades (or themselves later).

I don't work in this industry, nor have I ever, but I did once work with some smart folks who develop senior housing throughout the country. From what I understood of their business model, this might just be an opportunity worth pursuing further based solely on the numbers. I was actually rather fascinated by their development strategy, as it aligned closely with the interests that I represented at the time (hence why we were talking) and, if done right, follows demand like clockwork -- for a lucrative business model that also serves as a valuable amenity to the communities where they build.

What about Downtown? It's Not Too Far....

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Wayne Rainey, owner of monOrchid (where I was married, btw), that he had teamed up with the already familiar Reid Butler to build an interesting mixed-use development on the city-owned site adjacent to monOrchid, but that another project appeared to be winning: a low-income senior housing project. This is in the heart of Roosevelt Row, downtown, where I'd least expect to see senior housing as a preferred development type. So of course it piqued my curiosity, and it turns out that I'm not the only one. The AZ Republic editorial board chimed in with its column, Let’s get this downtown Phoenix project right; and the Downtown Devil reported on the story as well: ECCA meeting focuses on proposals for historic Knipe House and nearby properties.

Mr. Rainey has gone on to build support against the senior housing project, by starting a petition and rallying his contacts throughout the city. I'm with him on this one and suggest that others should be as well. Aside from the fact that I'd like to see that senior housing spread out a little toward our corner of the city, here's my reasoning that I offered for supporting Rainey and Butler (and I think this is only the second time that I've actively supported Butler on something, which is a strange coincidence given that the last time was just a few weeks ago):

First, a few assumptions about senior housing:

1) Senior housing and assisted living facilities are still in demand as the baby boomer generation continues shifting toward retirement.

2) Affordable senior housing is particularly needed.

3) Ask any major senior housing developer about their strategy, and they will tell you that they generally prefer locations surrounded by and/or accessible to large residential neighborhoods that are not yet adequately served, as most people looking at such an option seek as minimal a life change as possible and want to remain near their families/friends. 

4) Affordable senior housing is easier to finance than other product types, thanks often in part to tax incentives, but also largely due to special HUD financing.

Now a few assumptions about downtown Phoenix: 

1) Part of what everyone wants (or says they want) is residential diversity downtown. 

2) Downtown Phoenix is one of the least densely populated areas of our entire metro housing market.

3) Downtown Phoenix needs more full-time residents in order to continue attracting residential amenities to the area, thus improving quality of life for current/future residents and fortifying the regional appeal for the area by breathing more life into it.

4) A vast majority of people who work and/or attend school downtown commute to the area.

And now for the basic analysis:

When exploring from a blank slate what is most needed downtown, I would recommend looking into current ratios of senior housing (particularly affordable senior housing) downtown as compared to other parts of Phoenix. Sure it will likely run a little bit higher, but this seems like a valid test of need for this targeted development type in this location and my guess is that the need will not be demonstrated by a comparative analysis.

Next, given that the city owns this site and is essentially serving as the invisible hand of the market, I'd ask what the market will most likely produce without the help of the city. My guess is that affordable senior and student housing will win this battle, thanks largely to the already available special HUD financing and back-end investment demand for these product types.

And finally, what segment remains under-served in the subject area? Sure there are the artists, but I'd also suggest that there's a sizable enough segment of the downtown workforce population that would prefer to live downtown if they had better options. What about them? Isn't it in the city's best economic interest to nudge this segment along every once in a while if it means increased competitiveness for attraction of high-wage employers? As a side benefit, it would also help reduce traffic/commuting costs elsewhere in the city.

Most of these questions/suggestions could be much better supported with data that should be gathered and analyzed, and I simply don't have the time right now. But my gut tells me that we don't need the affordable senior housing on this site and I don't think that's an unkind sentiment at all. I just don't see how the city as a whole or this neighborhood in particular benefit by concentrating so much senior housing in this particular area.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Tragedy Strikes

Dear Laveen:

Let's start with a big kudos for the generally positive and concerned tone with which the community responded to awful news of a shooting that occurred on Saturday night on our turf, in which an innocent young woman was murdered. Now how about a brief moment of silence for the victim Nora Osman -- may she rest in peace and may her family and friends find the justice they deserve for such a tragic loss.

As is too often the case in such situations, the internet tends to erupt with horribly vitriolic commentary that does nothing to help; I am grateful that our community FB group refrained from engaging in the vitriol this time around, despite coming close. As has been the case in the past, news unfolded almost in real time, with neighbors updating the group and seeking additional information after calling police about the mayhem unfolding around them. It brought back a rather vivid memory of when I experienced something similar back in 2007-2008. I remember feeling back then that my peaceful community had been victimized; it angered and concerned me, and it served as a catalyst for meeting as many of my neighbors as possible and starting a block watch. In our case, no one was killed, but it most certainly left scars and left us asking, are we still safe here? So let's get right past the question of whether geography matters -- it does not, as is often pointed out rather quickly in these cases. This is not common and I refuse to accept that it might become common in Laveen or anywhere else. The frightening truth is that this probably could have happened almost anywhere. Bad guys with guns showed up to a party that got out of control, and they shot people. We still don't know who they are or how close police are to catching them, but we blame them and no one else.

So how did the party get out of control? According to the neighbor who reported this to our FB group, a couple of neighbor kids knocked on her door earlier in the evening (at their parents' request), and asked if loud music would be ok. I can't help but again put myself in that neighbor's shoes and think, "Wow, these kids are considerate!" Nothing could go wrong, right? But it did go wrong, very wrong, and it happened somewhere outside of the neighbor's house party on the street, sometime around 11:00 PM. According to the neighbor, shots were fired and "kids" were running through her front yard trying to hide. Then the police showed up as the "kids" scattered ("kids" is in quotes because it sounds like they were mostly young adults). Prior to this turn of events, it sounds like there was nothing to indicate a problem.

Details are still emerging and the police are still investigating. Concerned community members likewise sprung to action -- some of us started immediately investigating upon hearing that it was a young woman who died, in part because the news media were not yet reporting this information and we couldn't help but want to learn more. My first thought was to visit her facebook profile (now inactive/blocked) to see what was written there. Sure enough, the RIP messages supported our guess that it was indeed Nora Osman. I then checked some of her contacts who had recently posted on her profile. From there I found a troubling post by someone who looked like a current/past boyfriend and a few other disturbing comments/images from others (for instance, a young woman kissing a pistol and her friends commenting on her "thug" style) -- but nothing that made me think that the victim might have brought on any sort of violence to herself. In fact, when I checked her twitter, instagram, and social media accounts, I was touched to read the following assessment of where she thought she would be in ten years: "Married doctor kids big house for my mama nd siblings" [sic] is what she said. Sadly that will not happen now because someone murdered her in the street, in an otherwise safe neighborhood.

I may have already invested too much effort looking into something that is ostensibly none of my business, but I sincerely feel that we owe it to our each other to get concerned. As one member of the FB group commented, this kind of violent crime has become too common in recent years. This is not a comparative statement, warranting the obvious correction that we experience relatively low crime in Laveen when looking at the entire city's crime rates, but an absolute one. We do need to own up to the recent increase in gun violence and make it go away -- not by calling people names, trying to blame entire categories of residents (new vs old, rent vs own, and similar), but by doing whatever we can to help.

As MLK famously observed: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." In this spirit, I say do whatever you can. Some have suggested that residents attend the monthly "Coffee with a Cop" event, others call for greater vigilance overall, but I'll suggest an ever so slightly different angle: Do those things if you can or are so inclined, but mostly just get to know your neighbors and care enough to be a little bit nosey. Saying hi to fellow community members and recognizing their faces enough to do so tends to help the rest naturally fall into place. Let's also remember to consistently reject the glorification of violence -- I'm sure we'll eventually learn that the suspects were young men proudly "thugging" or (gang) "banging" or similar. While it would be ridiculous to blame anyone but the shooter(s), I believe that our community can learn from this event, come together a little closer than we have been recently, and just maybe prevent the next tragedy from occurring. We owe it to Nora to try.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Historic Laveen-SoMo, Part Two: Pioneer Luncheon

If you're keeping track, here was part one of this series, about the Sachs-Webster House on Baseline. Today let's look at a really cool, if not very well known, annual tradition in our community. It is the Pioneer Luncheon, happening today, and it honors those who have lived in the south Phoenix area for at least 50 years. Judging from this past article about the 37th annual luncheon that was sponsored by Lowman's Funeral Home in 2011, it must be the 39th this year.

Once you get past the obvious, if darkly humorous, notion that a funeral home sponsors this luncheon (no idea about their involvement this year, btw), let's think about some of the other details that make this such an interesting event. Firstly, given that so many of our current residents have moved here in the last decade, isn't it cool to remember every once in a while that plenty of people have been around here far longer than that? Second, isn't it cool that this takes place at Corona Ranch? What a cool reminder of the old Laveen-SoMo community. And finally, how did I just learn about this as my neighbors were leaving to attend today (btw, they happily get in for free for having long surpassed the 50-year requirement)....

Having heard stories from one of my neighbors about the good ol' days of getting together with all of his friends at the no longer existent bar next to Del Monte Market (near Laveen in SoMo Village, at 27th and Dobbins), this is a group with which I'd love to break bread someday. Therefore, I'll have to keep an eye out for it next year, as all are welcome to attend (but us newbies must bring a donation of some sort). And in case you didn't bother to follow the above link to the South Mountain Villager article, I'll post it again so that you too might get excited about catching this event in the future: Hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Do Something! Anything! (Because You Should)

I have fond memories of reading Shel Silverstein's books as a kid, so I've begun reading his poems to my preschool-aged son recently. Today, I came across a particularly good one in "A Light in the Attic":
Put Something In
Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.

This was the motivation I needed to write a post about ways in which Laveen residents can get more involved. Contrary to some of the often inadvertently judgmental pleas that I've seen recently in our Laveen FB group to "show up to public meetings or forever remain silent" on community issues, I'm going out on a limb to suggest that there are plenty of valid but often ignored opportunities to contribute. And they don't necessarily involve attending "boring" meetings, although that certainly helps sometimes (and the troopers who do it sometimes need a break). So let's try and explore those options.

First, are you an artist (of visual media)? If so, you could have stopped at the first line of the above poem and moved on to the Laveen Art League (and you probably did). If performance art is more your style, how about coordinating with LAL or setting something up with the Laveen Stage (open mic night), Tempe Dance West, or someone else in the community? There are plenty of opportunities that are already somewhat structured, and I bet you could get creative and do something totally different: flash mob, random public art installation, or otherwise. The possibilities are endless, and society relies upon you creative types to push the boundaries of what we previously thought were the limits.

Are you a shopaholic, foodie, or otherwise love a good excuse to go out and patronize local businesses with fellow community members? Then check out the Laveen Farmers Market, Laveen Cash Mob, or similar. Are you the active type? If so, I recommend the "Laveen Isn't Lazy" Activities Group. Aspiring crime fighter or otherwise concerned about safety and neighborhood security? Try the Laveen Village Blockwatch and PNP (logical prerequisite: get involved with your neighborhood block watch too).

Eh, maybe you are the type that goes for boring meetings.... I know you're out there because I'm one of you. There are a variety of options and I've tried many of them myself. Remember my post in 2011 about my unfortunately successful run for the HOA board? Yeah, I'm still on my HOA board until at least next year, even though I don't live there any longer.... If I weren't on the board, I'm sure I'd still be involved in HOA matters because the HOA exists and it represents me whether I like it or not. That said, the HOA exists for owners and not necessarily for residents -- an important if sometimes frustrating distinction. Therefore, I like looking for other opportunities to get involved with neighbors, like starting a neighborhood association, block watch, or simply holding informal and unofficial neighborhood picnics/BBQs. When I lived in and served on my HOA, we merged these two worlds by attempting to forge community bonds in line with the HOA mission of maintaining and preserving our subdivision. That said, I'm not really much of an HOA guy.

If you are into HOAs (and I mean really into HOAs), then you can take it a step further by getting involved with LAHOA, which is the Laveen Association of HOAs. I jumped on-board when LAHOA first began because it spoke to the "New Laveen" subdivision-dweller in me and offered an opportunity to launch an economic development initiative that focused on attracting businesses to Laveen -- one of my passions that didn't have much of an outlet elsewhere. After a year or two, I realized that I didn't particularly care to remain involved with LAHOA and couldn't commit the time anyhow.

The same thing happened when I tried getting involved with the more "Old Laveen" group, the Laveen Community Council, which has done more than most other groups in Laveen to support the community. The LCC is a great organization, but more appropriate for those of you who are into planning fundraisers and coordinating with schools, churches, and such (speaking of which, there are plenty of opportunities in those places too). I wasn't really cut out for the LCC, but if you are then please get involved there.

What I finally found that appealed to me in my search were the planning and development focused groups. The LPC/LCRD is a volunteer group that meets monthly to discuss county/city development issues in Laveen and often contributes to the discussion at meetings of the Laveen Village Planning Committee (LVPC) and elsewhere. I enjoyed serving my time on the LVPC and elsewhere for the city, as it offered insight and a platform to speak on forthcoming developments in Laveen. If this is where you too enjoy participating in the community dialog, then I recommend getting involved there.

Or, you know, maybe none of those options seem particularly inviting or attractive to you. That's fine. It should be obvious here that I've found more reward over the years in my overlapping blogging/facebooking activity that complemented my other community involvement. You might consider these avenues valid/valuable or not, and you may or may not engage with me in these forums. That's fine. However, I tend to disagree if you knock it because at least it's something and, as has been noted previously, the dialog can be imported or exported from these various avenues of discussion as needed.

So I love a general appeal to "Put Something In". What's your something? If you haven't found it yet, then I say keep looking. Just try not to be negative about others' choices of how they choose to engage in the community dialog; we do not need that.