South Scottsdale residents feel frustrated at being ignored by city government, a sentiment that sometimes erupts in incidents like a Thursday forum in which some questioned how developers intend to keep “Mexicans” out of an affordable housing project, according to two City Council members.
“There is a frustrated segment of the community that is fed up,” said City Councilman Tony Nelssen. “There’s a palpable sense of unrest in this city.”
The comments came in the wake of a community forum hosted by the Community Council of Scottsdale on the proposed SkyVista affordable housing project. Several dozen people attended.
Plans call for replacing about 40 “very substandard” affordable housing units at 7230 E. Belleview St. with 44 new townhouses, of which 13 would be restricted to buyers who earn 80 percent or less of the local median income, said Brian Swanton, executive director of the nonprofit Community Services of Arizona, the project’s developers.
“We’re looking forward to getting the wrecking ball out and clearing that site to make way for some revitalization,” Swanton said.
Several of the project’s neighbors expressed concern about how CSA planned to regulate the number of people living in the new homes.
“You’re going to get a load of Mexicans in there. You’re going to get a large family in there — grandma and grandpa and everybody else across the border,” said one unidentified woman in the audience. “How is this going to be stopped before it starts?”
Although the comment did not draw a distinction between ethnicity and immigration status, it drew a generalized murmur of approval from many in the audience. When audience member and City Council candidate Joel Bramoweth rose to challenge them, he was quickly shouted down.
Meanwhile, the three City Council members in attendance — Nelssen, Jim Lane and Ron McCullagh — held their tongues. Nelssen said Friday that he was there as an observer. If the comments had happened during an official city meeting, Nelssen said he would have spoken out.
“Under certain circumstances I would say, ‘Yes, that’s an inappropriate comment.’ But she made a statement and it didn’t go very far. That would never stand in the kiva,” he said, referring to the council’s meeting hall.
Scottsdale residents believe their neighborhoods are declining because of a lack of attention from city government, Nelssen said.
“I think it’s an indication of the frustration that many of our south Scottsdale residents have over a variety of issues,” he said.
“It’s born of frustration. I think that’s a true statement,” he said.
Neighbors of proposed affordable housing generally feel the projects would contribute to a decline in their neighborhoods, Lane said.
“I think it’s more to do with an economic group,” he said. “If you’re going to bring in a poorer segment of society, that may overload the unit. This has been a point of contention for some time.”
Affordable housing proposals historically haven’t always done well in the city. In 1999, a similar situation arose in response to an affordable housing project at Pima and McDowell roads. Several residents complained about the possibility of “shirtless Hispanics” wandering the neighborhood.
In 2000, Scottsdale voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have raised $12.9 million to buy land and build affordable housing.
Swanton said the units set aside for affordable housing will be restricted to U.S. citizens who earn enough to pay a mortgage. Those who bought into the project would have to pay fees to an HOA, which would ensure that new neighbors follow the rules, he said.
“These are no different from any other single family home,” Swanton said. “These are people that have the income to qualify for mortgage financing.”