City council meets with housing developers

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Portales City Councilors got their first face-to-face meeting with officials from UniDev LLC, the Bethesda, Md. company selected as the master developer for a proposed affordable housing project in Portales.

Peter Smirniotopoulos, vice president of development and Jeffrey Koskinen, assistant project manager were on hand at Tuesday’s regular city council meeting to give the council an orientation on the company and how it operates.

Smirniotopoulos complimented the city on its proactive nature in seeking solutions to the affordable housing problem and told them the hallmarks of communities with successful projects were receptivity, enthusiasm and creativity.

Smirniotopoulos said that his company was currently working with five other entities in New Mexico on housing projects with Clayton and Portales just getting started.

He said he was optimistic for the success of a program in Portales because of what he had seen so far.

“Portales may leapfrog ahead of other communities we’ve been working with for up to two years,” Smirniotopoulos said. “Some of them are mired in their own decision-making process.”

UniDev officials are in town to conduct meetings today aimed at getting a feasibility study done on affordable housing.

The project proposes to build homes on city-owned land near the golf course that would sell from $80,000 to $120,000. The project has applied for state financial assistance through the Workforce Housing Development program and would partner with New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority for the financing.

UniDev officials say that rather than traditional deed restrictions that might limit the amount of profit a homeowner could make on resale of the home, the units would likely be restricted by long-term lease of the land rather than the homeowner also owning the land.

Smirniotopoulos told the council that what was being proposed was not low income housing and the project would purposely shy away from federal dollars and other money that came with too many strings attached so that the decision-making could remain local.

“We work with you, we advise you, but you make the decisions,” Smirniotopoulos said. “We help guide you.”

Smirniotopoulos said initial plans are to shoot for being able to provide homes for the $20,000 income level with low down payments and low closing costs.

He said that the development wouldn’t build homes with nothing but cost in mind but instead would add amenities demanded on the open market.

“I can say that city council here is committed to finding a solution to this affordable home ownership problem,” Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. said. “A lot of what is available is beyond the average family’s reach.”

Officials from MFA, including Jay Czar, executive director were on hand for the meeting. Czar noted that with the cost of construction rising from 26-46 percent in the last few years, more and more communities were falling behind on housing. He said getting ahead of the problem was important to keep from losing a community’s young people, including first-responders, teachers and medical workers.

“It’s more and more difficult for our key workers to find housing,” Czar said.