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We all know that after the housing market crash, banks have tightened their fists considerably, making it hard to develop anything at all, much less innovative and equitable transit-oriented projects. The picture looked bleak for new development and redevelopment, where even suburban tract housing developers were dead in the water. But a few years ago, thanks to a very dedicated local team, some funds were secured to bridge the gap of financing for transit oriented development along the Light Rail. This is great news for Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa who have opted into Light Rail and stand to benefit from the economic development and urban vibrancy that is following.

To find out more about this fund, read my interview below with Shannon Scutari, who is in charge of deploying it.

*Note: The Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects is hosting a panel discussion on Urban Infill on which Ms. Scutari will be speaking. Other panelists include Greg Esser, Ben Patton, and Blooming Rock contributing writer Feliciano Vera. Christina Noble will be moderating. Come listen to this excellent, multi-disciplinary panel tomorrow (Thursday the 26th) at the Walker Building (30 N. 3rd Avenue, Ste. 200) at 6pm.

Blooming Rock: What is your background?

Shannon Scutari: Gubernatorial policy advisor, lobbyist, attorney, transportation professional, social worker, MBA grad, coalition builder, smart growth advocate, public service administrator, entrepreneur.  Successful initiatives:  Federal and regional funding for the 20-mile Light Rail Corridor, federal and state funding for Rio Salado Town Lake, Governor Napolitano’s Growth Cabinet, State Rail Plan, Phoenix-Tucson Intercity Rail Study, Arizona Smart Growth Scorecard, and Transit Oriented Development Project Assessment Tool

Blooming Rock: What is the Sustainable Communities Fund?

Shannon Scutari: A $20 million revolving loan Fund to incent, leverage and guide equitable Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in areas well served by high capacity transit.  The Fund provides the region’s first financial incentives focused on changing the Valley’s development patterns through the new equitable TOD paradigm.

Blooming Rock: Who are the partners involved in the Sustainable Communities Collaborative?

Shannon Scutari: The Collaborative brings together partners with housing, transportation, environmental, historic preservation, business, community development, planning, public health and financing expertise.  The partners include:  Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Raza Development Fund (RDF), St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, State Farm, Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Arizona Community Foundation, METRO, Phoenix IDA, Local First Arizona, Discovery Triangle, East Valley Partnership, Arizona Department of Health Services, Sonoran Institute, Arizona Department of Housing, Arizona Department of Transportation, City of Phoenix, City of Tempe and City of Mesa, Maricopa County, Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, Maricopa Association of Governments, Arizona State University, and Valley Forward.

Blooming Rock: Where does the money come from?

Shannon Scutari: Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Raza Development Fund are Community Development Financial Institutions and they each contribute $10 million ($20 million total) of private capital to the Fund.

Blooming Rock: How did this fund come to be and how did we become recipients of it?

Shannon Scutari: Phoenix LISC (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year), RDF and Sustainable Communities Collaborative partners created a compelling case for focused investment connected to the Valley’s light rail and high capacity transit corridors.  This momentum attracted the attention of LISC’s National leaders and they decided the time was right to increase the organization’s commitment to the Phoenix Metropolitan region.  RDF matched LISC’s commitment and both organizations are working on a Memorandum of Understanding outlining how both lenders will collaborate on projects requesting funding.

Blooming Rock: What is this fund meant to do?

Shannon Scutari: Provide bridge financing for community development connected to high capacity transit corridors.  Potential Fund uses:  Mixed-income residential development (up to 120% area median income); essential related developments such as grocery stores for access to fresh and healthy food, schools and child care facilities to support families, health care facilities to increase access to health care, and community improvements that make it easier for people to walk, bike and take the train and bus to their jobs, services, amenities, recreation, and social activities.

Blooming Rock: What are some of the challenges you face in incentivizing transit-oriented development?

Shannon Scutari: There are so many bright lights in our communities that are defying odds and working miracles.  Yes, we have many challenges, but the future is very bright.  As long as we continue to cultivate and support creative talent, change agents, innovative financing structures, diverse partnerships and community involvement we will turn challenges into opportunities.

Some of the challenges we will tackle together are: Demonstrating to lending institutions that our region is capable of creating successful infill community developments; working with local developers and community members to develop expertise in development designs and densities that characterize quality TOD; changing outdated zoning and overlay regulations that make it difficult to facilitate quality TOD; adopting financing tools and creating public-private partnerships that lead to TOD outcomes; and working with new and expanding businesses to locate within the light rail corridor to create jobs connected to transportation alternatives.

Blooming Rock: How do you envision the Valley being transformed because of this fund?

Shannon Scutari: Balance. Inclusion. Creativity. Diversity. Sustainability. Connectivity.  The Sustainable Communities Fund and the work of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative are creating a balanced approach to growth and development throughout the Valley.  Quality mixed-income development within urban cores is only possible through broad community support and the necessary financial tools that turn visions into reality.  So many amazing grassroots initiatives have created the foundation for interesting living in our urban centers.  We want to make it easier to take all this “blood, sweat and tears” to the next level and assist the next generation of Valley developers to create quality, well designed urban developments for all income levels that connect people to interesting places.  The successful result of all these “twenty-year overnight success stories” is that years from now no one will remember how hard it was to create the new paradigm because it will just be the way we grow and develop in Arizona.

Full Disclosure: Taz Loomans, the author of this article and owner/editor of the Blooming Rock blog, is working with Shannon Scutari as a Community Engagement Consultant.

Photo credit: The Camelback and Central Light Rail Station. Photo by the author.

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One Response

  1. Wally Graham, NAC Board member says:

    Kudos to LISC, Teresa Brice, Raza, Ms Scutari and others for support of the Native American Connections Devine Legacy project in the 4500 Block of N. Central Ave. It is an excellent example of a TOD project that is making a difference for low and moderate income people who would ordinarily be priced out of the ability to afford access to such nice apartments on what is destined to become pricey downtown real estate. People who live at Devine Legacy have access to light rail, they are close to jobs, and enjoy downtown amenities at affordable prices. Just shows what can be done when community organizers, politicians, bankers, and a non-profit put their mind and hearts together to build a new Phoenix that can accommodate diverse people. Hope we’ll see a few more TOD projects like that in the future.

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