In the southeast corner of Avondale Boulevard and Thomas Road, the Oak Park subdivision has been a part of the Avondale community for over 10 years.
But its population is 0. No one lives there.
As of March 6, only four unoccupied houses are within the subdivision. The rest is dirt or paved roads. According to Maricopa County Assessor records, the land is owned by Avondale Recovery Acquisition LLC, a subsidiary of Raintree Investment Corporation in Carlsbad, California.
“This sounds extremely unusual as we have a desperate shortage of homes to meet demand at the moment,” said Mike Orr with The Cromford Report, a group that analyzes the housing market in Arizona.
According to records, the four single-family residences were constructed in 2009 with 2020 Full Cash Values between $231,000 and $284,000. Records appear to indicate the subdivision has the capacity for over 50 homes.
The last deed dates for the homes are in September 2008, around the time of the national recession.
“They bought it at a knockdown price ($4 million) at a foreclosure auction during the housing crash and are presumably holding out for the highest possible return on their investment,” Mr. Orr said about the investment company. “The completed homes are not available for sale or rent.”
It is unknown when that possible return on investment will happen.
“There are no homebuilder development inquiries for this subdivision at this time,” said Jodie Novak with Avondale’s Development & Engineering Services.
The Daily Independent reached out to Raintree Investment via text message and was provided contact information for Chris Janson and Austin Whitefield, who handle the company’s Arizona projects. However, Mr. Janson said he could not comment on any of their properties. Rose Law Group represents Raintree Investment but also will not comment on the property, according to an office manager.
Mark Stapp, a real estate professor at Arizona State University, says while the housing market in metro Phoenix has improved since the 2008 recession, the cost of making improvements to a property like the vacant one in Avondale may be higher than the market prices of the homes can support. Thus, Mr. Stapp says it is not feasible to continue developing.
“And the cost of lot improvements has gone up in the last two years or so,” he said, adding the investment company might have to let the market get to a point where the opportunity cost forces them to do something.
Over 10 years empty
Oak Park is blocked off from passers-by with fencing along Avondale Boulevard, Thomas Road, and from within the Crystal Park Estates subdivision to the south.
Half a mile south from Oak Park is West Point High School, which opened in summer 2019. The school’s land was once planned to be the site of over 100 homes for the Encanto Crossing subdivision, according to city documents from 2017. Oddly enough, that property was also owned by Avondale Recovery, along with Treguboff Properties, according to a Rose Law Group news release.
South of Oak Park, a resident of Crystal Park told the Daily Independent via Nextdoor that while she isn’t aware of any issues with the lot, “it’s an eye-sore for sure.”
Four other residents in the surrounding area said via Nextdoor that they would like to see the land developed as long as it remains residential. Another Crystal Park resident wants to see it turn into a child-friendly site — like a YMCA.
Avondale police said they have had several burglary alarm calls for service at each of the four homes over the past five years. However, Officer Jaret Redfearn said all were false alarms.
But squatting — the occupation of a vacant home — appeared to be an issue at one of the homes in early January.
“Our officers contacted two subjects in one of the vacant homes, but no criminal report was taken,” Mr. Redfearn stated.
While no one lives in the homes, they are serving a purpose for Avondale police. Mr. Redfearn said his agency has an agreement with the investment company to use the property for various training purposes. Marked patrol vehicles can sometimes be seen parked in and around the neighborhood for an extended time when training is in session.
More homes needed in Maricopa County
The situation with the Oak Park subdivision appears to be a rarity in the Valley, which needs more homes, according to officials. Maricopa County is the fastest growing county in the nation, according to recent U.S. Census data.
“The situation is uncommon now,” Mr. Orr with The Cromford Report said. “Most investors have already sold at a healthy profit in Maricopa County.”
Even Land Advisors Organization, a Scottsdale-based group invested in the housing market, couldn’t help pinpoint other subdivisions in the county where homes were built and then subsequently stopped development.
According to 2018 numbers from the American Community Survey, over 17 million housing units were vacant in the United States. However, only 1.2 million of those were homes for sale. About 666,000 were sold but not occupied. And about 2.9 million units were for rent.
In comparison, according to a 2012 Slate article, 9.9 million homes had been foreclosed upon since 2008 — around the time of the housing crash — leading to more than 10 million vacant homes in the U.S.
As of 2017, the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area was among the metro areas that needed over 25,000 rental units just to bring the rental vacancy rate back to normal levels, according to numbers from the National Association of Home Builders. In addition, the biggest shortages of vacant units for sale were in large metropolitan areas, including Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale.
Some property owners may be keeping their property unused for the sake of not having to deal with another downturn. A report from Zillow warns of a possible recession in 2020, but that remains to be seen.
New neighborhoods in the West Valley
With Maricopa County one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, more homes and apartments are going to be needed in the next decade.
Out in the West Valley, where officials project most of the population growth over the next 10 years, housing units are coming to Goodyear near Estrella Parkway and Interstate 10, as well as near McDowell Road and Bullard Avenue. Peoria is getting ready to add homes in the Vistancia area and near 83rd and Olive avenues.
Toll Brothers finally expanded the housing market in Surprise with its master-planned community west of Loop 303 between Peoria Avenue and Cactus Road. Surprise may also see more homes in the northwest part of the city near Buckeye’s Sun City Festival. Also, active adult neighborhood Heritage at Asante hosted a grand opening Feb. 29 and will feature 1,500 homes northeast of Grand and 163rd avenues.
The Buckeye area is expected to see massive growth with the Douglas Ranch master-planned community — the “City of the Future” west of White Tank Mountains — projected to house about 300,000 residents.
And in Avondale, a master-planned community is in the works southwest of 99th Avenue and Indian School Road, as is a neighborhood less than 1 mile west of vacant Oak Park.
Is there a vacant lot near you in Maricopa County? How is it affecting your neighborhood? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.