Bringing New Affordable Housing to the Historic Town Center of Surprise, Arizona
The fast-growing city of Surprise, Arizona, located 20 miles northwest of Phoenix in geographically expansive Maricopa County, is now host to Heritage at Surprise, a 100-unit affordable housing development serving low-income residents, with some units set aside for people who have experienced chronic homelessness and people living with severe mental illness. Built by developer Gorman & Company on the former site of a baseball field, Heritage is part of the county’s efforts to use Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program funding to convert and consolidate its portfolio of scattered-site, single-family public housing units into larger, more centralized multifamily buildings to better meet Surprise’s need for affordable housing while also revitalizing its historic but underinvested downtown.
The unit breakdown and population set-asides at Heritage are determined by the project’s funding sources, which allow the development to serve people at a range of income levels and with diverse needs. Heritage consists of 100 total units in 6 buildings, including 30 one-bedroom units, 1 two-bedroom unit, 58 three-bedroom units, and 11 four-bedroom units. Slightly more than half of the units are financed through 4 percent low-income housing tax credits and have income limits of up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). The National Housing Trust Fund supported the development of 30 of Heritage’s apartments, which are reserved for individuals or families earning up to 30 percent of AMI; of these, 10 are reserved for individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness or live with severe mental illness. Another 15 units are supported with funding from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System — the state’s Medicaid agency — and are reserved for individuals living with severe mental illness. Funding sources for Heritage are given in table 1. Onsite services at Heritage include a job center and job placement assistance, and Heritage’s central location in Surprise’s Original Town Site area offers residents convenient access to city services. Amenities include a fitness center and a computer lab. Afterschool programming is available for children living at Heritage.
Table 1: Heritage at Surprise Financing Sources
|4% Low-income housing tax credit equity||$7,989,983|
|First mortgage from HUNT Mortgage||5,600,000|
|Arizona Department of Housing, National Housing Trust Fund||4,800,000|
|Housing Authority of Maricopa County, Local Initiatives Support Corporation||1,100,000|
|Housing Authority of Maricopa County, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System||1,000,000|
|City of Surprise, community development block grant||500,000|
|Federal Home Loan Bank, Affordable Housing Program||900,000|
|Deferred developer fee||57,543|
Replacing Outmoded Affordable Housing
For decades, affordable housing needs in Maricopa County had been met in part through scattered-site public housing, with many units in single-family detached homes. According to Brian Swanton, president and chief executive officer of Gorman & Company, scattered-site public housing, although an atypical model, served the needs of the county at the time. As the county’s population grew in size and density and the structures aged, maintaining the far-flung units became a significant challenge for the Housing Authority of Maricopa County (HAMC), which began consolidating its properties through a series of RAD conversion projects. Heritage at Surprise represents the conversion of 70 units of public housing spread across 25 miles of western Maricopa County into larger, centralized multifamily structures that are easier to service.
Swanton says that many of the former public housing buildings remain in good condition and are generally in good neighborhoods. Those homes are proving to be assets in the effort to promote affordable homeownership and are being sold to first-time homebuyers earning less than the area median income. The opportunity to purchase one of these homes was given first to current residents who, under the rules governing the RAD program, also were guaranteed housing at Heritage. To help interested buyers, HAMC partnered with area nonprofits to offer financial counseling and downpayment assistance. HAMC reinvests the revenue generated from the sale of these homes to support its mission of providing affordable housing.
Opened in April 2020, Heritage at Surprise marks an important achievement for Maricopa County and for Surprise’s ambitions for a renewed historic center, efforts the city is pursuing by waiving fees and review requirements for residential and commercial development. At Heritage, residents are served by public amenities located in the Original Town Site area, such as the senior center, the library, and government services. Swanton says that the development’s central location helps residents who had previously lived in car-dependent neighborhoods that made accessing needed services challenging. With continued fast growth in the area pushing rents higher, Heritage ensures that low-income households have stable access to housing, services, and opportunities.
Interview with Brian Swanton, president and chief executive officer, Gorman & Company, 21 April 2021; Christine Serlin, 20 December 2018, “Housing Authority of Maricopa County Nears End of Portfolio Repositioning.” Accessed 5 May 2021; “Heritage at Surprise – Unit Set-Aside Matrix,” document provided by Brian Swanton. Jason Stone. 21 May 2020. “OTS revival anchored on Heritage.” Accessed 5 May 2021; Maricopa County. n.d. “Heritage at Surprise – Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed 5 May 2021. ×
Gorman & Company. n.d. “Heritage at Surprise.” Accessed 5 May 2021; “Heritage at Surprise – Unit Set-Aside Matrix,” document provided by Brian Swanton; Christine Serlin, 20 December 2018, “Housing Authority of Maricopa County Nears End of Portfolio Repositioning.” Accessed 5 May 2021; Correspondence with Brian Swanton, 23 April 2021. ×
Interview with Brian Swanton, 21 April 2021. ×
Interview with Brian Swanton, 21 April 2021; Housing Authority of Maricopa County. 2019. “Annual Public Housing Agency Plan FY 2019-2020.” Accessed 5 May 2021. ×
City of Surprise. n.d. “Surprise Original Town Site (OTS) Revitalization Plan.” Accessed 5 May 2021; Interview with Brian Swanton, 21 April 2021. ×