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 V.15 No.25 | June 22 - 28, 2006 

Council Bite

Barely Living

Councilors work to improve and expand affordable housing in Albuquerque

If you've looked for a place to live lately, you've probably noticed that housing costs in Albuquerque have skyrocketed. Even worse, condemnations and demolitions are eating away at the least expensive tier of our housing stock.

At a special City Council meeting on June 14, Councilor Debbie O'Malley presented two bills mandating a more aggressive effort to create affordable housing for homeowners and renters. Councilor Isaac Benton, an architect, cosponsored the bills. O'Malley said the problem had reached the crisis point, worsened by out-of-state investors snapping up homes and land.

O'Malley talked about how "gentrification" can often raise housing prices in a neighborhood beyond the reach of traditional residents. "We put a lot of effort into a neighborhood, turn it around, and then displace the people who live there."

Benton narrated a slide show of recent affordable developments around the city, such as the Beach Apartments, Arbolera de Vida and Villa de San Felipe. He said the term "affordable housing" often frightened neighborhoods, but the attractive homes being built in Albuquerque were the antithesis of the grim, old-style "projects."

The legislation defines affordable housing as requiring no more than 30 percent of family income. Speakers said some Albuquerque residents were paying as much as 50 or 60 percent of their incomes, if they could afford a place at all. Other speakers said 37,000 Albuquerque residents were "rent burdened," and anyone making less than $12 an hour couldn't afford rent or a mortgage. One retired teacher said she lived on $8,000 to $10,000 a year, and there was nothing available for that income bracket. "A year from now," she said, "you may find me on the street."

The bills call for setting aside 8 percent of general obligation bond funds--about $5 million--to establish a trust fund for acquiring land, construction and infrastructure. The bill also sets up a workforce housing committee, establishes guidelines for 4:1 leveraging of funds and calls for a point system to evaluate projects.

While each of the 35 speakers said they supported affordable housing, about half asked for time to gather more community input. O'Malley and Louis Kolker, head of the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership, debated the best mechanisms for keeping ownership units affordable for 50 years and rental units permanently affordable. O'Malley said she welcomed the opportunity to respond to issues and deferred the bills until the Aug. 7 Council meeting.


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