Affordable housing in Payson has been about as rare as ice water in Hades, said Robert Elliott, the town's housing/rehabilitation development services coordinator, "but that may change within the next year."
By this time next year, he said, hundreds of affordable homes will be built and on the market around Payson with estimated prices ranging from $65,000 to $90,000.
And step one of his department's plan is to change the local perception of affordable housing.
"That's the bugaboo everyone talks about," Elliott said. "What they say is, 'It's a great idea as long as you don't put it anywhere near where I live.'
Elliott wants to eliminate the term "affordable housing" from the local vocabulary and replace it with "mixed-income housing" -- which he said means new, quality homes which will increase property values in their areas, owned by people with different incomes, or who have utilized different services to enable them to own a home.
"These will be affordable living units based upon income, not lifestyle," Elliott said.
Elliott said he can't reveal specific details yet, but he did say that such projects are known as scattered-site developments. The homes "won't all be in Green Valley, next door to Chaparral Pines, or at the airport. But they will be all over Payson."
Based on preliminary guesstimates, Elliott said, the majority of the homes will be two-bedroom, two-bath models of more than 1,000 square feet, ranging between $65,000 and $75,000. There also will be 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath homes priced from $80,000 to $90,000.
"The land has been purchased already," Elliott said. "The developer is quite well-known in these parts, and he has expressed a desire over the last several years to participate in mixed income/affordable housing projects. He has a social conscience."
One of those purchased parcels is being considered as the location for about 130 homesites for "teachers, white collar employees, town and county employees, and others with moderate incomes." Elliott said. "That's where the need is the greatest."
According to Elliott's figures, the local median income (half below, half above) for a family of four is $31,500; the moderate income (80 percent of all residents) is $26,000; and the average income is $18,300.
"I got a call last week from one of the two men who fly the helicopter for Payson Regional Medical Center. He said, 'I need to find someplace to live that I can afford, or I'll have to leave Payson.' When one of only two helicopter pilots on call in this area has to leave because he can't afford to live here, that's a shame. That should not happen."
The local income figures Elliott cited "describe the people of Payson," he said, "but they don't tell the whole story. A single schoolteacher who's making $22,000 or $24,000, can afford a house at maybe $600 or $800 a month. But a family of four with the same income cannot afford that same house without some creative financing, different kinds of help, or different kinds of incentives.
"That's why we need to get away from the idea of, 'Let's make this affordable.' Our realm should be, 'Let's make this for everybody.'
To accomplish that, Elliott said, he is "showing the developer different sources of money they may not have been aware of" to build the homes -- which is the key to making them easier to purchase. "These are funds that have a lower interest rate for the developer and the builder, and which will be readily available in the marketplace."
Another vital element of the plan is the overall economic development of Payson.
"We need companies that will come here and provide living wage jobs. I will not denigrate Wal-Mart or anyplace else, but $7-per-hour jobs don't make it in this day and age."
Elliott said he is in the process of meeting with several such companies, including "a computer-assisted drafting plant ... that would produce jobs in the $15 to $20 range."
The mandate of the last town election was representation for all of Payson, Elliott added. "That's what we're trying to do with this plan."
Still, it's not quite a done deal.
"As far as the real estate is concerned, yes, it's a done deal. But as far as complaints from people who say, 'You can't build that there,' well, I'm certain that will build up steam.
"But there are mitigating plans already in process to buffer that."
"Right now, in my wanderings through Payson, I do not see any (affordable housing). Or at least I'm not aware of any," Elliott said.
"I would love it if someone called me to say they're building affordable housing, so the Town of Payson could jump in and give them whatever assistance they might need."