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Housing and Historic Preservation


In Arizona, 31 cities and towns maintain historic preservation programs, over a thousand buildings have been designated as historic, and numerous historic districts have been created – 36 residential and nine nonresidential in Phoenix alone. These buildings and sites are important assets for their communities, not only for their historic, cultural, and aesthetic value but also for their economic contribution. In fact, preservation and adaptive reuse play an important role in maintaining and expanding affordable housing.


It is vital, therefore, that these programs be maintained and enhanced. The Arizona Preservation Foundation encourages policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels to be mindful of the positive interface of historic preservation with affordable housing and the tools that could be used to magnify the impact.


What is a Historic Property?


An historic property is one that has met certain criteria and been designated by the city in which it is located as historic. Generally, the property must be fifty years old (though exceptional properties may be younger) and meet at least one of the following criteria: (a) associated with historical events or making a contribution to broad patterns of history, (b) associated with the lives of significant persons, (c) significantly represent a style or construction of a particular period, has high artistic values or is the work of a master, or (d) has the potential to yield information important to our history or prehistory. The property must have maintained integrity associated with its period. The definitions of these four criteria are expanding to save and preserve more properties associated with under-represented communities.


What is the Designation Process?


For most Arizona cities, requests for designation are reviewed by city Historic Preservation staff, Historic Preservation Commissions, and City Councils. Sometimes the designations are for individual buildings often characterized as “landmarks.” But often a neighborhood of several blocks is designated as historic. The result is a historic zoning overlay.


How are Historic Buildings Protected?


Designated buildings cannot be demolished, moved, restored, rehabilitated, reconstructed, altered, or changed in exterior appearance without approval, usually by the city Historic Preservation staff or Historic Preservation Commission. For exterior work or new construction, changes are subject to review consistent with adopted design guidelines which assist in determining the appropriateness of proposed changes. Demolitions can be delayed for a certain period or permanently, depending on local ordinance.


Historic Preservation and Affordable Housing


Preservation of historic and other older buildings is not just a function of maintaining historic, cultural, and aesthetic values. It is also an element of addressing the affordable housing crisis. 



Important points of these reports:


  • Older neighborhoods exhibit high degrees of proximity – to schools, work, and public transportation (“Missed Connection,” page 7-8)

  • Preservation is cheaper than new construction and returns units to low-income families faster than new construction (“Missed Connection,” page 10)

  • Historic districts in Phoenix have a larger share of small-scale multi-family housing units and though historic districts represent only 1% of the area of Phoenix those districts contain 15% of parcels with two housing units (“Preservation Phoenix Style,” page 26)

  • Historic districts are not just enclaves of rich people (“Missed Connection,” page 11)

  • Historic districts in Phoenix have a larger share of low-income residents than Phoenix as a whole (“Preservation Phoenix Style,” page 24)

  • The adaptive reuse of historic commercial buildings for affordable housing adds to the supply of housing without demolition or adding to the problems of sprawl (“Missed Connection,” page 12)

  • The combined use of Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and the Historic Tax Credit can assist developers pursuing affordable housing projects in historic buildings (“Paring Historic Tax Credits”)

  • Several policy initiatives can be utilized to facilitate the development of historic and older buildings for affordable housing (“Missed Connection,” pages 14-17)

  • Local governments can adopt programs that facilitate the adaptive reuse and maintenance of historic buildings to provide for affordable housing (“Preservation Phoenix Style,” pages 44-48)


This interface of historic preservation and affordable housing is not a new idea for Arizona. Older projects include the Westward Ho in Downtown Phoenix, Little Sisters of the Poor in Phoenix’s Garfield neighborhood, and Roosevelt Commons in Phoenix’s Roosevelt neighborhood. Below is a list of recently completed, in process, and contemplated projects in several Arizona communities with corresponding links for further information. But more can be done.


Appropriate Actions for Policymakers


What these reports demonstrate is that any discussion of housing supplies and affordable housing cannot ignore the existing and potential role of historic preservation. With that in mind, we recommend consideration of the following by public policymakers.


1. DO NO HARM. Any recommendations regarding zoning reform should be sensitive to the impact on historic preservation programs. It is not enough to allow the continued use of design guidelines for historic buildings. Provisions which allow for unregulated density in historic neighborhoods are also a danger to historic neighborhoods. It allows developers to acquire contiguous properties, wait a period of time, and then demolish the historic buildings. The resulting new construction may not only be inappropriate for the neighborhood but put its very designation at risk. 


2. Encourage the improvement of historic and older neighborhoods and the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings for affordable housing. Examples:​​

  • The state of Arizona is one of the few in the nation that does not have a state historic tax credit for rehabilitation of historic buildings. State legislators should adopt such a credit at least for the development of affordable housing.

  • Provide funds and authorization for Housing Trust Fund to participate in the following affordable housing projects.

  • Provide grant funds for local governments to incentivize matching funds for historic home improvements to preserve affordable housing.

  • Give consideration in grant programs for the use of funding for adaptive reuse of historic buildings for affordable housing. 

  • Encourage state agencies to add points for saving or rehabilitating historic buildings in their application scoring.

  • Encourage adaptive reuse for affordable housing by developers through the creation of materials and seminars on the use of federal, state, and local tax programs.


Individual Historic Preservation/Adaptive Reuse Housing Projects







Community Land Trusts


In Flagstaff, the Townsite Community Land Trust (TCLT) addresses housing affordability by separating ownership of the home from the land. This community-directed nonprofit owns the land and sells the homes at an affordable price to eligible and financially qualified permanent Flagstaff residents. Homeowners accept certain restrictions such as a limited return on future sales in order to make the home ownership opportunity available to all future buyers. TCLT focuses on the restoration and maintenance of Flagstaff’s historic buildings and character. Through TCLT, Flagstaff's historic structures become valuable community assets as permanently affordable homes. TCLT sold its first restored and improved historic homes in 2017 and will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2024. The need for its services has only grown.


Note: If you know of other projects or have news to share, please let us know!

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