Settling In

Some former residents of the MLK building enjoy new homes; others await a return to downtown

Moving dates are indelibly etched into Janet Woodville's memory.

"I moved into the Martin Luther King building downtown on Dec. 8, 1999," she vividly recalls, "and left there to go to the Tucson House on March 16, 2006. Then I moved into my new home Dec. 14, 2007."

Woodville was one of about 100 senior and disabled tenants of the six-story MLK project who were moved out almost three years ago (See "Housing Hassle," Jan. 6, 2005). They were relocated to make way for the rehabilitation of the building into One North Fifth.

That project involves renovating the building from a government-owned complex primarily for low-income residents into a private development targeted at a more upscale clientele. Rents for studio apartments in the new project start at $549 a month, with one-bedroom units going for $850, excluding $50 for utilities.

Even as the transformation of the building continues, some of the former MLK tenants still await the day when they can return to a permanent address.

Olga Osterhage, acting director of the city's Community Services Department, indicates that about 30 former MLK residents still plan on moving back downtown. When they do, they will be housed in a 68-unit building to be constructed atop an underground parking garage now being built immediately adjacent to One North Fifth.

Osterhage estimates the garage should be completed by next summer, with the housing above it finished in September 2010.

Some of the former MLK tenants who did not wish to return downtown now reside in other city-operated apartments or in Section 8 housing units scattered around Tucson.

Meanwhile, about 20 past MLK residents who met government-income guidelines chose to move to a new subdivision located near Silverbell and Goret roads on Tucson's westside. One of them was Woodville; another was Ray Sidoma, once the resident council president at MLK.

Even after all of this time, Sidoma says the city still gets the former tenants together on an occasional basis. The next gathering, he indicates, will be a Christmas party in early December.

After they left the MLK building, both Sidoma and Woodville lived at the Tucson House on Oracle Road before moving into their new homes. While Sidoma says it was pretty good at Tucson House, Woodville doesn't recall the experience fondly.

"People started causing me trouble," she remembers of the high-rise, high-density building, "and it was very bad at Tucson House. I was excited to get out."

Woodville then moved into a spacious duplex rental unit in the subdivision at Silverbell and Goret; she bubbles with excitement about her current living situation.

"This is the best thing the city ever did," Woodville gushes. She also heaps kudos on a city staff member who helped make her move to the subdivision so easy. "She really worked her butt off for me," Woodville declares.

Whereas Woodville occupied a top-floor apartment at MLK, she now has a home with a front porch.

Supported by a walker as she wheels around her new house, Woodville applauds the design of the bathroom, commenting about how helpful the grab bars are to her. But her highest praise is reserved for the in-unit washer and dryer. "I get to do my laundry when I want," Woodville enthusiastically says, "and don't have to go down into the basement and have a bunch of quarters like I did for MLK's laundry room."

The development's relative isolation isn't a problem for Woodville, even though she doesn't own a car. "I don't mind," she explains, adding that she rides the bus or calls Van Tran for a lift.

The 86-lot subdivision where Woodville lives currently contains only 28 colorfully stuccoed units, built for the city of Tucson. She even sees that as an advantage.

"We have nice mountain views now," Woodville observes, "but when other houses start going up, we won't have that."

The dramatic slump in new housing construction, combined with the recent Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing by Pathway Developments, the original developer of the subdivision, may benefit Woodville and her neighbors: They just might be able to enjoy those mountain views for a few more years.

Doucette Homes will now construct houses in the subdivision, and Tom Doucette anticipates completing two model units by May. He hopes to sell between 12 and 24 homes next year in the $180,000 to $240,000 range.

Doucette acknowledges that because of the poor economic situation, potential buyers probably won't be lining up to look at the subdivision; therefore, Doucette will not build any houses on speculation. Instead, signed contracts will be required before a home is built.

From his perspective, Doucette thinks the project has certain advantages, including easy access to Silverbell Road and good visibility from that street.

As a further inducement to prospective buyers, Doucette says he is looking at making the new homes certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Even in these tough financial times, Doucette is confident the project can work. "If the development is a good product," he suggests, "it can be successful."

For her part, Woodville says she already lives in a wonderful development. "I really love this place," she says, "and I'm living in a way I never dreamed I would."

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