ASU center builds sustainable communities through student fellowships

November 12, 2014

Given a passion for urban design and community engagement, School of Sustainability senior Chris Barton was elated when he saw a posting for a fellowship with Project Rising, an incubator for ideas that transform the vacant lots of Phoenix into vibrant, community-enhancing spaces.

“That! I need that!” he said. student working on a Stardust Center housing project Download Full Image

Barton and other Arizona State University sustainability students are putting their knowledge to good use, gaining real-world experience and bringing sustainable practices to their local communities through fellowships provided by the Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family.

When it opened in 2005 with a generous gift from philanthropist Jerry Bisgrove, the center acted in a consulting capacity. Communities wishing to incorporate sustainability into their affordable housing development plans sought the center for both technical and design-related assistance. Since this time, it has partnered with an array of communities – urban and rural, small and large – throughout the state.

In its new phase – known as Stardust 2.0 – within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the center continues to advance affordable, safe and sustainable housing by emphasizing education.

“Stardust 2.0 provides ASU students with the knowledge and experience they need to engage with the broader community and make a positive impact,” says Rob Melnick, executive director and chief operating officer of the Wrigley Institute. “The achievements of our first cohort of fellows are a nice testament to this.”

Within weeks of securing the fellowship, Barton was playing an important role at Project Rising. His first assignment entailed preparing a property redevelopment proposal for review by the City of Phoenix.

“It’s a great idea for a multi-purpose space with a market-like feel,” Barton says. “I look forward to visiting it in the future and knowing I helped make it possible.”

This is the Stardust Center’s primary aim: empowering students to build sustainable communities. To achieve this, the center created two courses, Sustainability and Affordable Housing and Sustainability and Social and Family Welfare. It then extended its efforts by establishing the fellowship program, which is in its pilot year.

Bailey Spears, also a senior in the School of Sustainability, saw the Stardust fellowship as an opportunity to apply her Sustainable Urban Dynamics coursework in a practical setting.

“My education has shaped my belief that affordable, sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems should be accessible to everyone, and that the community should be involved in the planning and implementation process,” says Spears. “The Stardust Center's guiding principles reflect this belief, so I was excited to join its fellowship program.”

Through the program, Spears is working with the City of Phoenix Housing Department. Her primary task is to pool information and resources in preparation for an upcoming federal housing grant application. If secured, the grant will provide funding for educational and economic opportunities, healthy living and increased energy efficiency near affordable housing sites.

Project Rising and the City of Phoenix Housing Department are but two of the Stardust Center’s numerous partner organizations. In addition to providing welcomed assistance to partner organizations, Stardust fellows gain valuable networking opportunities, insights and inspiration.

“It’s been amazing to observe how an organization can function in the absence of an institutional framework,” says Barton of Project Rising. “Seeing people with a shared vision and drive make their community a more sustainable place is inspirational.”

Stardust fellowships are available to School of Sustainability students in their junior or senior year. Interested and eligible students are invited to contact Caroline Savalle at for additional details.

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability


Phoenix-area housing market in low gear until next year

November 12, 2014

The Phoenix-area housing market is unlikely to see a significant boost until next year. That’s according to the latest monthly report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Here are the highlights of the new report on Maricopa and Pinal counties, as of September:

• The median single-family-home sales price was up 5 percent from last September, but that’s largely just because fewer sales are clustered at the bottom end of the market, not because individual home prices are rising much. portrait of ASU director Mike Orr Download Full Image

• The area has been experiencing sluggish demand and low sales activity for more than 14 months.

• Because there are fewer people buying, the rental market is hot, with both rents and construction permits for new multi-family housing rising.

After the housing crash, Phoenix-area home prices shot up from September 2011 to last summer. This year, prices leveled off and then rose somewhat. The median single-family-home price went up 5 percent from last September to this September – from $198,997 to $209,900. Realtors will note the average price per square foot rose 7 percent. The median townhome/condo price went up 15 percent.

However, the report’s author says the median increases happened primarily just because fewer sales are now clustered at the lower end of the market, with fewer foreclosures and short sales available. Only luxury homes above $2 million are seeing stronger-than-normal demand. Overall, the number of single-family-home sales is down 7 percent from last September to this September.

“Demand has been much weaker since July 2013, and still shows little sign of recovery,” says the report’s author, Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School. “Supply is also fairly limited. We anticipate pricing will continue to move sideways over the next few months, and a significant increase in demand will be required to change things.”

Investors are unlikely to bring that increase in demand. They’ve largely lost interest in the Phoenix area, now that better bargains can be found in other parts of the country with more foreclosures. Investors accounted for only 14.4 percent of residential-property purchases in September – way down from the peak of 39.7 percent in July 2012.

“To get the market back to what we would consider normal will require a major recovery in demand from local first-time home buyers,” explains Orr. “The last quarter of the year is rarely one in which first-time home buyer demand takes off without some unusual stimulus, so it looks as though our hopes for a livelier market will have to rest on a stronger start to 2015.”

Orr says if lenders decide to lower their standards for home loans, then that might create some additional demand next year. Many people who went through foreclosure in 2008 will be allowed to enter the market again, after spending the required seven years in the credit “penalty box.”

Until then, the rental-home market is red hot, with fast turnover and a constrained supply of rental homes available. The Phoenix area has already seen a 5.7 percent boost in rents over the past 12 months. Construction permits to build new multi-family housing to meet the demand are also on a strong upward trend.

Those wanting more Phoenix-area housing data can subscribe to Orr’s monthly reports at The premium site includes statistics, charts, graphs and the ability to focus in on specific aspects of the market. More analysis is also available at the W. P. Carey School of Business “Research and Ideas” website, at