Concrete pads and crooked utility boxes dot a mostly vacant mobile home park in a run-down Tucson neighborhood. Families have been coming and going from the Sleepy Hollow mobile home park for decades.

Soon, construction will begin on 44 new patio townhomes, and families will move in, bringing life back to the lots.

The low-income houses will be built as duplexes with 1-3 bedrooms, some one-story and some two stories, and with some units designated for people living with disabilities. The families will have access to a new community center, a city park, Nash Elementary School and Jacinto Park Head Start preschool.

It’s a bright future for Sleepy Hollow, which had a heyday as a bustling mobile home park, but it fell into vacancy, disrepair and neglect. By 1999, a local journalist described it as an infamous slum. And last year there was a tragic incident of a dead baby found in a bag.

The former Sleepy Hollow office on Alturas Street in Tucson, Arizona July 26, 2023. Credit: Michael McKisson

Eventually the redevelopment of Sleepy Hollow will cover two city blocks in this distressed Miracle Mile district.

The developer is La Frontera Arizona, a group of nonprofit companies that describe themselves as community problem-solvers. Their primary businesses are behavioral healthcare and affordable housing.

La Frontera has more than 800 units of affordable housing in the surrounding Oracle and Stone Avenue corridors. Those include the Miracle Point Apartments, which are reserved for formerly homeless people, and the new Gateway Apartments complex for low-income residents.

The Sleepy Hollow project is at least eight years in the making. That’s how long La Frontera has been trying to acquire the trailer park. 

At first the nonprofit was interested because “finding that much acreage for infill is hard to do,” said Dan Ranieri, La Frontera president and CEO. 

The trailer park sits on two parcels of land, one 5 acres and one 7 acres.

But it took a couple of years to track down the owner and then several more years to communicate and negotiate through Chinese translators and get the deal done, Ranieri said. The financing for the $21 million project was complicated, too. La Frontera put together five different sources of funding to get the project started, he said.

La Frontera bought the vacant 5 acres to the south of Alturas Street. There are still a few people living on the north 7 acres, and Ranieri said his organization wants to acquire and develop that too — up to 100 additional homes — but will work on one parcel at a time. Some of the people living on the north parcel might move to the new townhomes when they’re ready.

The site has always been affordable housing. In 2015, a BBC journalist stopped by the place and used Sleepy Hollow as an example of “where America’s working poor live.”

Looking north, Altura Street divides the two sections of the Sleepy Hollow mobile home park in Tucson, Ariz. on May 29, 2023. Credit: Michael McKisson

Thrive in the 05

“I think redoing Sleepy Hollow is going to kick off the needed improvement in that whole neighborhood,” Ranieri said.

The project is located in the Thrive in the 05 district, a major multi-year project to revitalize the 85705 ZIP code involving partners including the city, nonprofits, Pima Community College, and the Arizona State University School of Social Work.

The opportunity for new housing and redevelopment is very exciting, said Alison Miller, the city coordinator with the Thrive in the 05 project.

“There’s really this need for a variety of multigenerational housing options,” including family units, she said.

Some projects can be done by the city, Miller said. 

Those include the city’s purchase of the No-Tel Motel, a run-down motel with a cheeky name, to turn it into Milagro on Oracle, a 63-unit affordable housing project for older adults.

Read more

And other projects, like Sleepy Hollow, just one block away from the Milagro project, are better done by partners like La Frontera, she said.

With plans to stimulate more development in this area — five city blocks are for sale along Speedway — the Thrive partners are focusing on new and existing affordable housing now to make sure residents aren’t priced out later.

Tucson is prioritizing acquisitions in the 85705 ZIP code as one of seven target areas for affordable housing development, according to the city’s Housing Affordability Strategy.

“The whole idea was to revitalize that neighborhood and (this is) “a chance to develop it as a community,” Ranieri said. “I’m hoping it’s not a place where people come and go, I’m hoping it’s a place where people come and stay there.”

The former office for the Sleepy Hollow mobile home park on Alturas Street still has the property map attached to the wall in Tucson, Arizona on July 26, 2023. Credit: Michael McKisson

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

Becky Pallack is the Operations Executive at Arizona Luminaria. She's been a journalist in Arizona since 1999.