Albuquerque takes on its housing crisis with new initiative

January 31, 2023

******Source,American City and County, Andy Castillo, Published Dec 12, 2022

Like many cities across the United States, Albuquerque, N.M. is facing a housing crisis. Nearly half the city’s renters are “housing cost-burdened” and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. “Housing Forward,” a plan launched recently by city administrators, aims to create 5,000 new units beyond what’s projected to be produced in the private market by 2025.

“Albuquerque families feel and see the housing crisis every day. Today, we are laying out a bold course of action to lower prices, break down barriers to access, and create urgently-needed housing for our city,” said Tim Keller, Albuquerque’s mayor in a statement announcing the program. “Our families deserve options to live together, from casitas for grandparents to guesthouses for adult children with special needs. For lower income families, housing is vital for their security and prosperity. This is about ensuring everyone has a place in the city we call home.”

The initiative was crafted to address the city’s housing crisis based on findings from the Office of Equity and Inclusion’s Housing Equity Needs Assessment report, which was published in October. The report focused on inequality in housing.

Among all residents, “Black and Native communities in Albuquerque are at the greatest disadvantage in terms of ability to build wealth through homeownership and entrepreneurship,” the report says. This disadvantage impacts a person’s quality of life in many ways that are adjacent to housing security: “Homeowners and the wealth generated around owning a home can include access to educational programming for children, which can in turn impact the opportunity future generations are exposed to.”

To address these needs, the “Housing Forward” plan proposes a series of zoning changes that will encourage higher density and create new housing stock. It also incentivizes new multi-unit dwellings, and sets aside money to convert existing buildings into affordable housing units. Supplementing federal and state funding, the City Council appropriated $20 million as part of a Gross Receipts Tax Bond to fund the initiative.

The first step, which was announced at a public meeting earlier this month, will be to purchase and convert a hotel next year into housing units for 1,000 unhoused and low-income residents sometime.

Along with hotels and motels, city administrators also want to convert “at least 10” commercial and office space to create another 1,000 new residential units, costing an estimated $5 million, an explainer about the initiative says.

Further, by expanding enforcement of nuisance abatement law violations—targeting buildings that are “magnets for crime”—properties can be, where appropriate, appropriated and “converted to housing units,” the statement continues. And beyond this fiscal investment, the initiative makes it “easier for families to stay together on the same property.”

Currently, more than 60 percent of Albuquerque’s housing stock is zoned as single-family detached. By updating the city’s zoning code, administrators want to increase the availability and accessibility of “casitas,” or accessory dwelling units, along with in-law quarters and homes for children with special needs. This zoning update will simultaneously provide additional income for property owners and make available more affordable options for renters. The city aims to increase the number of casitas by at least 1,000 units by 2025.

Finally, the initiative will modify the current parking requirements to promote higher density housing and more infill, and encourage multi-family dwellings.

“We have to deliver for our neighbors from all walks of life so they can live and work in this city. The need for affordable housing has been evident for a long time now, and I’m glad it’s at the forefront so that we can work collectively to change the direction,” said Isaac Benton, president of Albuquerque’s City Council.

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