Living with an opportunity zone works out differently for different people, as Hank and Marion Klassen of Mesa have found.
Their 40-year-old house needed a new roof and plumbing for years.
The Klassens thought they had an answer when they learned they could apply for assistance after Mesa targeted their neighborhood near Gilbert and Broadway roads for revitalization.
The terms and conditions of the city’s housing rehab program turned out to be more than they could live with, but the Reed Park Opportunity Zone helped spur their neighbors to take on the project themselves.
Volunteers spent three weeks’ worth of nights plus three more weekends on the Klassens’ roof as summer’s heat began to set in.
"It was neighbor helping neighbor, with no strings attached, except food," said neighbor Don Defeo, a Dobson High School facilities assistant.
The opportunity zone program is intended to bolster neighborhoods on the verge of decline by encouraging people to fix up their homes and the surrounding neighborhood, while the city pitches in with its own staff and Maricopa County probationers when necessary. The city also makes its federally-funded housing rehabilitation program available.
Mesa Grande in northwest Mesa was the first neighborhood selected for the program. Last fall, the area around Reed Park became the second.
The Klassens learned about the housing rehab program at an opportunity zone meeting and thought it might be a good way to make needed home repairs. But they weren’t thrilled by details not included in the brochure.
Their limited income qualified them for the funding, but then two city inspectors came to their house and told them what would have to be done to bring their house up to code. They wanted to put in the program’s $35,000 cap, half of it as a loan that would be forgiven over the course of 10 years, the other half backed as a lien on the house.
"It would have been fine if they had paid for the materials and let us take care of it at a local level, but they called all the shots," Hank Klassen said.
After Defeo, and Stephen Clemens, a Honeywell engineer who lived on the other side of the Klassens, heard what happened, they said they would take care of the roof as long as Klassen bought the materials.
Klassen figures he spent around $9,000, with most of that money going toward a new air conditioning unit.
Marcos Mendoza, a construction worker who moved in across the street a year ago, helped the Klassens figure out how to install the vents correctly, and quickly joined the repair gang.
Defeo’s brother-in-law took care of the plumbing, and other family also helped until they finished the job in early June.
The housing rehab program didn’t appeal to Klassen, but a nearby homeowner, Helen Reyes, is in the midst of a $35,000 overhaul, including new doors, bathrooms and windows. She said the changes will give her a much cleaner, safer place to live.