Tucson looks to help residents thrive

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by JOE GIDDENS

The “Thrive in the 05” initiative was formed last fall to revitalize the Oracle corridor, an area from the Pima Community College Downtown Campus going north to Miracle Mile and bounded by I-10 to the west. 

It’s an area that is steeped in indigenous history with some of the Pascua Yaqui’s Tribe’s earliest residences. 

The area saw a boom with the advent of the automobile’s arrival in the American West as the northern gateway to Tucson. The route followed Miracle Mile; then turned on Oracle Road; then turned onto Drachman Street and went Downtown before exiting the area on South Sixth Avenue. 

The completion of Interstate 10 in 1961 left residents facing a number of challenges with their customers routed elsewhere. Presently, this area of Tucson has roughly twice the unemployment and crime rate as other area neighborhoods.  

The City of Tucson, the Arizona State University School of Social Work and Pima Community College created the Thrive in the 05 program in reference to the 85705 zip code. 

Broadly speaking, Thrive in the 05 is Tucson city government focusing on housing, ASU looking at crime reduction and Pima focusing on workforce development.   

“The idea here is recognizing that crime, quality of life, poverty, health issues, housing challenges all are related,” Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said.

“Thrive in the 05,” Downtown Campus president David Doré said in a recent email “is about building community through clean-up days, festivals and resource fairs, business summits, neighborhood meetings and numerous other community events.”

These events are held to address a wide number of challenges the city has identified in the area, including high housing vacancies, food insecurity, healthcare and traffic. 

“But also issues with substandard housing, homelessness there’s a lot of problems with street-level drug use,” Magnus said. “So, yeah, we have our hands full.” 

The initiative has two main funding sources.

The City of Tucson received a Choice Neighborhood Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Department for $1.3 million. One of its main goals is to “replace distressed public and assisted housing with high-quality mixed-income housing,” according to city documents. 

Further, by being awarded this grant, it makes Tucson eligible to compete in the future for a $30 million grant. 

The major focus of the Choice Neighborhood Grant is on the Tucson House. Its 408 housing units is the largest concentration of public housing in the city. The 17-story building, which was completed in 1963, needs extensive repairs and maintenance for its mostly elderly residents.     

The other source of funds is the ASU School of Social Work Tucson, who received a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice to focus on community crime reduction and youth programming in the area.

About the same time, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild received a Daniel Rose Fellows award in 2018, which gave the city technical assistance for the Oracle area revitalization. The mayor cited the success of the Downtown and how rising prices are driving private investors to other areas.

“One of the kind of homework assignments on that was to create a formal partnership with Pima Community College,” said Thrive in the 05 Program Manager Teresa Noon. “Because we’re the anchor institution.”

Pima College was selected as the anchor institution for several reasons, mainly because of its location in the zip code and the college’s investment in applied technology for the Center of Excellence. 

While the initiative has high goals for the community and its residents, some have reservations about the projects’ impact on Tucsonans. Community member Andrés Portela worries that Thrive in the 05 will displace low-income and people of color in the area. Because much of the history of urban development follows a familiar pattern.  

“The urban core becomes cool again and those people of color and the low income who couldn’t flight are pushed out.”  

  However, one of the city’s goals is Inclusive Revitalization, which allows current residents to remain in their neighborhoods while investment takes place around them. The city aims to accomplish this by funding home repairs for residents and working with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to address affordability.

Gentrification is a loaded word and it has been thrown around with the resurgence of Downtown Tucson. For example, Shot in the Dark Cafe said a reason for its closing because its rent increased from $1,100 a month to $4,400 a month, according to a report from the Arizona Daily Star in January.   

Noon’s plan is continued dialogue with the community to address these concerns. 

“Gentrification is a word that we are aware of, especially with what’s going on in our Downtown area,” Noon said. “But beyond that we’re really focusing on right now listening to what the community wants and then taking that feedback to drive the decisions were making currently.”  

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