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County Council Tackles Affordable Housing

on August 24, 2017 - 6:26am

CDD Director Paul Andrus discusses affordable housing at the work session Tuesday night at the White Rock Fire Station. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/
Scene from the County Council work session Tuesday evening at the White Rock Fire Station. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/



Los Alamos Daily Post 


When it comes to affordable housing, there are no easy answers. To begin discussions on how best to fulfill local housing needs, Los Alamos County staff and County Council delved into the complex topic during a work session Tuesday night at the White Rock Fire Station.


One idea Community Development Director Paul Andrus presented to Council for its feedback was setting aside 15 percent of proceeds generated from land sales for an affordable housing fund.


The idea did garner support from some Councilors. Councilor Pete Sheehey said he could support this idea. He added that making it possible for lower income families to live in Los Alamos, “makes for a better community”.


Councilor Antonio Maggiore also said he was fine with allocating 15 percent of land sales for affordable housing. However, he wanted to make sure this plan to collect a percentage of proceeds for an affordable housing fund would include recent land sales such as the A-19-A land parcels in White Rock.


Councilor Chris Chandler took a slightly different position. While she said she is open to the idea, Chandler wondered if 15 percent was enough and also asked what would be the goal of the affordable housing fund.


Others on the Council said they believed more information and study were required on the subject.


Council Vice Chair Susan O’Leary pointed out that the Council did not have data analysis of what the County’s housing needs were across the entire income spectrum. O’Leary said she does not deny that there are housing issues for low income residents but there also are issues for middle and higher income earners. She encouraged a full housing study.


O’Leary also encouraged focusing efforts on existing neighborhoods.


“I think we need to go full throttle on existing neighborhoods … improve our existing housing stock,” she said, and emphasized that the County’s two current housing programs, the Home Renewal Program and the Homebuyer Assistance Program, need to be ramped up and made viable.


In regard to new housing, O’Leary said the needs of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) employees need to be addressed. She pointed out that the laboratory is the County’s golden goose and the County should help LANL recruit and retain employees.

Councilor James Chrobocinski, who owns Zia Realty Group, said he believes the focus should be on moderately priced homes. He pointed out that houses for sale that are priced below $200,000 remain unsold. Similarly, houses priced $450,000 or above sit on the market. It’s the houses that are priced between $200,000 to $400,000 that get 10 offers in a week, Chrobocinski said.

“We need to think about it strategically,” he said, adding that the County needs to “make sure what we’re doing is what the market needs”.

Council Chair David Izraelevitz also said he believed more homework needed to be done on the subject. He added whatever affordable housing projects the County undertakes they need to be sustainable and their longevity needs to be considered.


Creating and sustaining an affordable housing fund using land sale revenue was not the only idea presented to Council. Andrus mentioned several other possible options to address local housing needs.


These options include:

  • Continuing Homebuyer down payment or closing cost assistance and housing rehabilitation activities;
  • Consider a combined acquisition/rehab/resale program;
  • Taking a look at: Shared equity and/or deed restricted owner-occupied (re-sale options);
  • Tiny houses;
  • Consider potential options of developing affordable housing units at the site of the former Black Hole, the A-8 parcel or at 1000 Sombrillo;
  • Find strategic opportunities for housing as part of downtown redevelopment;
  • Seek opportunities for partnerships to acquire and renovate existing properties for affordable housing; and
  • Expand housing programs to assist those with moderate incomes.

Several Councilors, including Izraelevitz and Maggiore, showed interest in the tiny home concept. Others felt redeveloping the downtown to be a mix of commercial and residential should be addressed as well.


In regard to addressing commercial blight and revitalizing the downtown area, O’Leary said, “How soon can we get started?” She added making improvements to the downtown area ... “that excites me.” O’Leary added that she would support a County fund that purchased blighted properties to be redeveloped for commercial and residential use. This, she said, would benefit everyone.


It is not just affordable housing that needs to be addressed, Andrus pointed out that workforce housing also is needed. According to Andrus’ presentation, workforce housing differs from affordable housing because it covers those who earn more, typically those who fit into 60 to 120 percent of the area median income. Affordable housing applies to those who make below 80 percent of the area median income.


Andrus further reported that workforce housing also may involve a blend of financing that includes some government sources and units ranging from mixed income to 100 percent market rate. Andrus also said that workforce housing may be eligible for 4 percent non-competitive tax credits and private activity bonds.


Both affordable and workforce housing, he said, are needed for the vitality of the community; they allow families to grow and live in the place where they work. However, affordable and workforce housing also present challenges. For instance, Andrus reported the County does not qualify for federal housing grants for funding because it is too small and its median income is too high. Furthermore, new affordable housing developments are complex and usually certain developers will specialize in just affordable developments.


Additionally, Andrus said that affordable housing, just as market rate housing, is expensive to build. He mentioned the developer for the A-19-A parcels looked at putting in affordable housing units but asked the County to provide substantial financial assistance for it to happen.


“There must be sufficient scope (a minimum number of units) for these projects to work,” Andrus said.