Trellis branches out with new townhouse project

(Note: This article is part of “Communities on the Line,” a LISC Phoenix series on transit-oriented development in the Valley.) A ¾-acre residential lot in the West Camelback Corridor is long past its prime as a single-family-home property. As fate and determination have it, that’s a very good thing for 20 future homeowners and a neighborhood experiencing revitalization spurred by light rail.

Trellis broke ground in May on a townhouse development in central Phoenix at 1617 W. Colter St. Trellis @ Colter is a rare, unique new home ownership opportunity within the Valley Metro light-rail corridor where thousands of units of multifamily rental housing have sprung up along the 28-mile route in recent years, including projects underway to the south and west of the townhomes.

But for Trellis, which has a long history in single-family home lending and building, it didn’t make sense to put three or four small units on the lot near the 19th Avenue and Camelback Road light-rail station. Trellis delved into density options for home ownership because of the lot’s proximity to light rail, its central city location and because of all the commercial activity occurring on Camelback Road.

Joel McCabe, vice president and chief operation officer at Trellis, said Phoenix zoning and the city’s Walkable Urban Code, which regulates development near light rail, allowed setbacks and density that helped the townhouse project. Instead of four single-family homes, Trellis will build 20, three-story, two- and three-bedroom townhouses with garages. The first phase of Trellis @ Colter should be completed by the end of this year; the second phase should be completed in the spring of 2020. A $2.4 million LISC Phoenix construction loan helps Trellis with financing on the transit-oriented development project. McCabe calls LISC Phoenix a “great partner who happens to have access to capital and understands our business model and what we do.” For 45 years, Phoenix-based Trellis has used its education, building and lending services to make home ownership a reality for low- and moderate-income Arizonans. Its work in providing subsidized loans through Trellis Lending and as a community development financial institution has proved the value of home ownership in bringing economic stability and security to families and strength and vitality to neighborhoods. Even though the homes are affordable financially for qualified buyers, McCabe said Trellis homes aren’t made affordable by lowering the price of the homes and thereby impacting valuation in neighborhoods. “We always sell them at what the appraised value would be, what we think the market is,” he said. The Trellis @ Colter project represents a couple of firsts for the non-profit organization (formerly known as Neighborhood Housing Services of Phoenix). It’s different than what Trellis typically builds. It is the first attached, multi-family housing project for Trellis, which has made a name with single-family home projects in infill spaces and subdivisions. The townhouse project, however, will be built the same “Trellis way.” “We always do our best to keep it affordable but also to make sure that it’s energy efficient,” McCabe said in explaining the Trellis way. “We always look at ways to make them unique. Just because homes are affordable we don’t think that they should be any less of a home. … We don’t believe that just because somebody is not making six figures and can afford a house that is $500,000 or $600,000 you should have to buy any less of a home.” The townhouse project is also a first for Arboles Home Mortgage, a new Trellis lending enterprise. With declines in federal housing funds and other resources, organizations like Trellis have sought ways to remain sustainable. Trellis is in the development and lending business, with revenue invested back into the organization. Unlike Trellis Lending, Arboles loans have no subsidies. It is a social venture loan product with no income restrictions. It’s available to everyone. With an Arboles Mortgage, borrowers also get access to services typically not offered by lenders, including housing counseling and home-buying education that Trellis believes everyone should have. All profits are invested back into Trellis to help more people become homeowners. “It’s a way for us to bring in some unrestricted revenue to help support the mission,” McCabe said. “That’s hopefully part of the selling point, too, and that is people will make a decision to say, ‘I can work with Arboles but I’m going to help somebody else buy a home because Trellis can help create more homeowners.’ ” At Trellis @ Colter, that’s a perk on top of a rare opportunity to buy, not rent, a new home in a hot Central Phoenix market near light rail.