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Grant Road Rage, Redux 

More than a year after the city agreed to consider buying their home ahead of a major widening project, a family learns that no deal will be forthcoming

It's been a few long years for Rebecca Garcia and her family as they've tried to sell their home on Grant Road.

The Garcias, who have owned the home since 2003, have certainly outgrown the two-bedroom bungalow. Rebecca and her husband, Javier, have three kids, ranging from 16 months to 7 years old.

But unloading the house, which sits just west of the Grant Road and Campbell Avenue intersection, has proved impossible because the city plans to demolish the house to widen Grant Road—although not for another six or seven years.

So even if the Garcias could find a buyer, it's unlikely that a bank would loan money for a house that is scheduled for demolition.

The Garcias had hoped that the city of Tucson would acquire the house as part of an early-acquisition program. Back in 2007, a year after Pima County voters approved the Grant Road widening as part of a 2006 road improvement project that created the Regional Transportation Authority, they were told that they might qualify for the program.

But then the city changed the construction schedule and informed them they were no longer eligible for an early acquisition.

The situation got worse in 2013, when a van crashed through the wall in front of their house and nearly struck the bedroom where Garcia's two girls slept. (She was then pregnant with her third child.)

After the Weekly wrote about their predicament ("Grant Road Rage," June 13, 2013), it appeared as if city officials were going to make it possible for the city to acquire the house. The City Council voted to change the policy to allow some early acquisition in hardship cases; the Regional Transportation Authority agreed to come up with some funding.

"We thought that's all we needed," Garcia says. "The hurdle up to that point had been a lack of funding. We were thrilled."

A firm hired by the city, Tierra Right of Way, came by in October 2013 to begin the process of inspecting the Garcia's house. Garcia said the company "did many, many inspections over the course of the year."

As weeks dragged into months with no straight answer from the city, the family finally had enough. They figured this situation wouldn't drag on all that much longer, so they moved out of the house in March 2014. It was an impulsive move, driven by desperation, and the family ended up moving three times in a short period before finally settling on a rental home owned by a friend in June 2014.

As the situation with the city continued without any resolution, they decided to rent the Grant Road. The rent payments don't cover the cost of the mortgage, however, so "it's being rented at a loss," says Garcia.

Finally, late last month, Garcia went down to the offices of Tierra Right Of Way to get some kind of an answer about the house. And as she waited, a Tierra employee typed up a letter that delivered bad news indeed: Because the house needed about $7,500 worth of repairs to make it a viable rental for the city, the city was not going to be interested in purchasing the house until such a time as it needed to demolish it for the widening project.

Once again, the Garcias were told they were not eligible for early acquisition.

Hector Martinez, who heads the city of Tucson's real-estate division, said that when he reviewed the reports from Tierra Right of Way, he was convinced that buying the Garcia's home would be a bad investment for the city.

He said that repairs to the home to bring it up to the city's standards for a rental (which are more strict than a private individual's standards) would cost at least $7,500—and possibly more because inspectors saw signs of asbestos that would need to be abated.

And—in an ironic twist—because the Garcias now have renters in the home, the renters would become eligible for additional dollars for relocation, even though that benefit would not have been available for the Garcias.

Martinez said it's his job to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, so the need for the repairs, coupled with the trouble of renting the home for the next six or seven years before it is eventually demolished, led to his decision to not make an offer to buy the Garcia's house.

"I'd rather use those funds for a project that's active," Martinez says. "I can use those funds for acquisition instead of an investment property where there's a lot of unknowns. Whether I'm a governmental entity or a private investor, would that be a good use of taxpayer dollars to buy this?"

Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, whose office in right down the street from the Garcias' home, was surprised and distressed to hear the city had declined to make an offer.

"It's enormously frustrating," said Uhlich, who worked to change the city's policy so that the Garcia's house could be acquired. "It seems to me to be a real reneging on our agreement in 2013. ... At a minimum, the decision needs some kind of review. It needs to be reviewed for reconsideration."

Garcia said she'd be happy to entertain a lower offer on the house in light of the needed repair or would consider having the repairs done herself. She never intended to be a landlord and just wants to unload the house so her family can have enough money for a down payment on a new one. She hopes that some kind of deal can still be made.

"We feel like we're robbing our kids of a normal childhood because we feel like we're in a temporary situation and we'd like to put in a swing set and put down some roots," Garcia said.

More by Jim Nintzel

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