Tucson is seeing the first signs that the 2-year-old streetcar line will be a draw for new affordable housing projects.

Three proposed projects that would add 200 new apartments for low-income residents along the streetcar line have just received Low Income Housing Tax Credit awards from the state.

The tax credits are allocated by the IRS through the Arizona Department of Housing through a competitive application process.

Tucson projects weren’t receiving many awards for a time while the state was focusing on funding projects with transit-oriented design, said Sally Stang, director of the city’s housing department.

Now the streetcar line is helping to make Tucson projects more competitive, she said. “We’re starting to see a little bit of movement in affordable housing, which is so needed here,” she said.

The city committed about $1.5 million in federal grant money in support of three of the tax-credit projects for a total of $42.5 million in development. There is no federal taxpayer money in the Marist project, but it does include a $350,000 loan from Rio Nuevo, which comes from local sales tax dollars.

Developers need a local contribution to get the tax credits, which are the primary financing vehicle for new investment in public housing, Stang said. In complicated deals, investors buy the credits and front the capital for the projects and receive 10 years of tax credits in exchange, she said.

A recent city report on affordable housing said there were more than 5,200 families on the public housing waiting lists and about 5,000 more on the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher waiting list.

Apartment project
at Westerner

Of the three new downtown projects, two put old buildings to new use as apartments for low-income seniors.

A project by La Frontera Partners, called West Point Apartments, will renovate and build onto the Westerner office building, the big blue building at the southeast corner of Broadway and South Stone Avenue.

The location is particularly nice because the seniors will be able to get anything they need within a quarter-mile to a half-mile, and there’s a streetcar stop in front of the building that can get them to medical appointments at El Rio Community Health Center, said Dan Ranieri, president and CEO of La Frontera Arizona. Some support services also will be available on-site.

Locating a project on the streetcar line gives it a huge advantage in the scoring for Low Income Housing Tax Credit applications, he said. In fact, “it’s virtually impossible to win” if it’s not on the streetcar line, he added.

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Before Tucson had a streetcar line, local projects couldn’t compete with Phoenix projects for the credits, Ranieri said.

As La Frontera was developing a separate affordable housing apartment project for veterans near the Westerner, the agency was approached about maybe buying that vacant building. COPE Community Services also was interested in the building, so the two local agencies are working together on the project, Ranieri said.

The other reuse project, The Marist on Cathedral Square, will save the crumbling adobe Marist College building when it is renovated as apartments for low-income seniors. That project also includes a new building where the diocese offices are now, at the southeast corner of Broadway and South Church Avenue.

A third downtown project is all new construction at the western terminus of the streetcar line. The West End Station project has been touted by Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero.

“The West End Station project will bring mixed-income, workforce housing to the west end of downtown,” she said in a statement. “We need to make sure that we support a downtown for all. Projects like this represent an opportunity for new development and additional housing on the west side — housing that is accessible for everyone.”

Another La Frontera project that’s not downtown also received tax credits. Miracle Point Apartments, near West Miracle Mile and North Oracle Road, will add 40 apartments for chronically homeless people.

Ranieri said it’s a good location because it’s near social services, and some services also will be provided on site.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@tucson.com or 573-4346. On Twitter: @BeckyPallack