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Once a month, business leaders, government officials, neighborhood groups and nonprofit organizations come together to collectively problem-solve and address the lack of social services and affordable housing in Downtown Phoenix.
This is the new Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA) Social and Housing Advancement Committee, and it has the potential to bring really big, solution-based ideas to life, according to Jon Brodsky, executive director of PCA.
“The role we can play is as conveners,” Brodsky said. “By bringing together significant and important ideas, we can help advocate for the projects and plans that will make the most impact.”
This type of cross-sector collaboration differentiates this committee from other collaboratives in the sense that it provides the faith-based community, nonprofits and governments a direct line to downtown business leaders.
Individuals from the private sector can identify ways in which their resources can be the most impactful, where the gaps are, and how they can be filled in.
Since the committee’s inception in February 2019, two brand new funding sources for affordable housing have already been spearheaded: The Arizona Housing Fund, which is a joint venture between Howard Epstein and the Arizona Community Foundation; and the Arizona Housing Partnership, led by Joe Gaudio of UnitedHealthcare, which came out of the Governor’s Goal Council.
In addition to housing, the committee is also focused on bolstering social services and programs like eviction prevention and family reunification.
“It’s rare, if ever, you see this kind of commitment from the business community, nonprofits, philanthropists, neighborhoods — all coming together and saying ‘we need to fix this. We need to do something about this,'” said Dr. Sheila Harris, co-chair of the committee.
Harris was the founding director of both the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation and Arizona Department of Housing. She brings more than 30 years of affordable housing and economic development experience to the committee, which she co-chairs with local architect Mo Stein, who worked with PCA to help develop the 10-acre Human Services Campus.
“We owe a big debt of gratitude to Phoenix Community Alliance for helping the Human Services Campus come together — that has really helped people experiencing homelessness find the resources they need,” Harris said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. I believe if we’re going to have a strong community, everyone needs a place that they can afford to live.”
Arizona has the third-most-severe affordable housing shortage in the country, according to a 2017 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Phoenix has one of the highest needs.
Exacerbated by growing rents, over-extending supportive services, and high eviction rates, more people are at risk of homelessness, especially those on the poverty line.
For the sixth year in a row, the number of unsheltered individuals across the Valley increased, according to Maricopa Association of Governments’ annual point-in-time count. Based on this one-night census in January, there were 6,614 people experiencing homelessness, both sheltered and unsheltered, which is 316 more than last year. The majority were concentrated in Phoenix.
As a longtime downtown resident, PCA’s Board Chair, Diane Haller, asked the organization to take a deeper dive into the issue, and began regularly convening PCA members in July 2018 to examine social services and affordable housing in the area.
Based on rising rates of homelessness and growing concern among neighborhoods, community groups and local businesses, advocating for services and housing emerged as a logical focus-area for PCA, according to Brodsky.
“There are so many smart people from fantastic organizations, and some of those ideas just need a place to live and grow,” he said. “PCA is happy to give those ideas a platform, and an opportunity to find the right outlets so they can have a major impact.”
The development of this committee follows PCA’s 36-year track record of driving major public-private partnerships including fundraising for Steele Indian School Park, bringing the Human Services Campus coalition together, the Phoenix Biomedical Campus land deal, and in 2017, beginning major fundraising efforts for the revitalization of Margaret T. Hance Park.
Since 2013, PCA has been the membership affiliate of Downtown Phoenix Inc. For more information about joining the Phoenix Community Alliance Social and Housing Advancement Committee, please contact Cyndy Gaughan, director of membership services and special projects.