PHOENIX — The lack of affordable housing has been a major on-going crisis in the Valley. Now, a family emergency homeless shelter has been able to put a small dent in this crisis with the opening of 90 new housing units in Phoenix.
South 7th Village sits on 4 acres of land and opened its doors to those in need last month. UMOM New Day Centers CEO Darlene Newsom said federal tax credits through the Arizona Department of Housing has helped them fund this new project.
Right now, many Arizonans are struggling to find affordable places to live. Rent can take up more than half of their monthly income, so they have very little left to pay for utility bills, groceries, car insurance, medicine, and other expenses.
Newsom said thanks to federal tax credits, they were able to keep rental prices at about $500-700 for one- and two-bedroom units.
The family shelter and women's shelter run by UMOM New Day Centers currently has a long wait list. Newsom said it could take about 8 weeks for a family to get a bed. Those who do make it into the shelter are finding it hard to find jobs or homes that are affordably priced. Many on the wait list are living in their cars or on the streets.
One big segment of the population that is extremely vulnerable include the elderly and veterans. South 7th Village is a 55-plus community that will give first priority to veterans in need of affordable housing.
"It's very important that we get our seniors and our veterans off the streets," said Newsom.
Newsom also added that they had 240 people fill out applications for 90 units, but she encouraged people to apply in case new units opened up through turnover. The income qualifications include those making $30,000 or less.
Johnnie McGee, a 65-year old disabled Vietnam War veteran is one of the first residents of South 7th Village. McGee moved to Arizona from Jackson, Mississippi to be closer to family, after health problems caused him to lose his job as the manager of a fast food franchise.
"I was barely making it each month to get ready for the next month. I had to let a lot of stuff go just to survive. My truck, my car, I had a few horses – had to let it all go just to survive," said McGee.
In Phoenix, McGee said the only place he could afford on his disability income was a $500 studio apartment in a crime-ridden area.
"Where I lived, if I went to the store, I was hoping I didn't get robbed. I would get people knocking on my door all the time, looking for a drug dealer who used to live around the area. I kept to myself mostly," said McGee.
He slept on a fold out couch and his suffered from breathing in the mold caused by the leaking roof. McGee said he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
"I'd actually sit in my house before Corona, sometimes with a mask on," said McGee.
McGee's life turned around after attending a Veteran's Stand Down event in January 2020. A fellow veteran invited him to the event that puts all social services under one roof for veterans to access. There, McGee first encountered UMOM and learned about the affordable housing project that was being built for veterans, so he filled out an application.
He moved into his unit last month and says he was just blown away by how new everything was.
"I was like, ‘aw Jesus,’ to walk into a place that is brand spanking new. And it's like, man, there's a washer and dryer here; man, there is a new refrigerator here. I couldn't believe it. I am so grateful and so blessed," said Newsom.
Newsom said UMOM New Day Centers hopes to work with Arizona state legislators in the upcoming year to get state tax credits, so they can open more much-needed affordable housing units in the Valley.