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Garfield neighborhood in downtown Phoenix benefits from recovery

Garfield neighborhood
Posted at 6:34 PM, Sep 27, 2021

PHOENIX — One of the oldest neighborhoods in Phoenix, the Garfield neighborhood downtown, has become known for hipsters, Arizona State University students, and especially artists.

The patchwork of remodeled 100-year-old bungalows, fixer-upper properties, and empty lots now come with a price tag of at least $400,000.

Studios, businesses, and restaurants now call the neighborhood home.

Gallo Blanco restaurant made the move in 2016 and executive chef and partner Carlos Diaz said the decision was an easy one. "We can see a lot of, you know, the potential around this area," he said.

While its proximity to a revitalized downtown Phoenix combined with the housing shortage has contributed to its popularity, the real work to save this community from collapse began decades earlier.

Carmen Mireles and her husband bought their home in Garfield in 1972. "It was a very calm neighborhood; it was a pretty neighborhood and clean," she told ABC15.

Mireles raised her four children there, but she says things changed drastically in the late 1970s into the early 1980s.

"Gangs started showing up, it wasn’t as calm. The neighborhood was decaying, it wasn’t the same. It was dirtier, there was a crime, of all kinds, and it wasn’t as safe as before," she said.

They moved a couple of times but always came back. "We felt obligated to this neighborhood, to the people, because there were good people," she said.

The non-profit art gallery Alwun House, located near 11th and Roosevelt streets, was purchased in 1971. It's downtown Phoenix's first art gallery and by the mid-1980s foundation, President Dana Johnson said things had gotten very bad.

"It was scary for our patrons to come down here and park in this neighborhood. And so that was one of the impetuses that Alwun House got out of our strictly arts box, and started getting involved in the community," Johnson told ABC15.

Johnson, Alwun House founder Kim Moody, and other long-time residents formed a neighborhood organization that pushed the city for attention. He also credits a Department of Justice Weed and Seed grant, that the agency distributed to areas of high crime during the 1990s.

"Half the money went to the police to weed out the crime. And then the other went to social programs, and programs to rehab the houses and so forth, " Johnson said.

In 1992 the city developed a neighborhood plan. A redevelopment plan was adopted in 1999.

For 10 years Johnson said with federal grants the city rehabbed 500 houses and built about 60 homes where blighted properties once stood. He said by the year 2000 difference was significant.

"It was getting really a lot nicer. And we were building a good community," he said.

Then the 2008 housing bubble burst and the neighborhood was facing a new issue. "Housing properties went down to nothing."

He said many were purchased by investors who have no intention of living in the homes.

"And that's been the problem since then-is investors buying and turning them into apartments or rentals, or Airbnb," Johnson said. "You're going to buy these houses, you'll put a new paint coat on it and charge twice the amount of rent that it did, you know, two years ago, so that that's not building our community. That's just taking advantage of people."

It's another chapter in the Garfield neighborhood's story, as it works to moves past its painful past to create a better future.