Housing unit estimates too pricey for councilors’ comfort

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Portales city councilors are concerned pricing estimates for putting together an affordable workforce housing project may not be affordable enough.

Councilors met in a special meeting Tuesday morning to revisit the project, which has been under study for several months by UniDev of Bethesda, Md. on the city’s behalf. In particular, councilors are concerned about the bottom-line cost for construction per square foot.

The project would be done with financing through the Mortgage Finance Authority and would utilize city-owned land near the golf course. The proposal envisions 150 homes being built on land leased to a non-profit entity by the city. Owners would own the home, but not the land, and would also be subject to equity caps.

“Do you think that we can really sell this the the people,” questioned councilor Jake Lopez?

Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. clarified that it would be UniDev’s duty to sell them and the city wouldn’t have that responsibility.
Lopez countered by saying the city council, not UniDev, would take heat from citizens if the project doesn’t work out.

Ortega agreed that he is concerned about the numbers he’s seen and claims by UniDev that they aren’t making the big dollar on the project.

“In essence, if you dig deep enough they are making the big dollar,” Ortega said. “They’re not coming in and saving the world with what they’ve proposed.”

In particular, Ortega cited the 3 percent contingency fee and the owner’s representative fees as places where the numbers may be bloated.

Councilors were shown a comparison of UniDev’s example of a 1,200 square foot home for a price of $148,570, and 1,600 square foot homes recently built by Carlton Casey Construction that sold for $155,000 to $160,000.

By those figures, the cost is $24 higher per square foot on the UniDev home. Even when the price of the lot for the Casey home is tacked on to the computation it is still lower.

While expressing their doubts about the numbers, several councilors reaffirmed their desire to see some kind of project move forward.

“This is something people have been asking for — affordable housing,” Councilor Ron Jackson said.

City Manager Debi Lee recommended that the city move forward with doing a survey, proposal and master plan for the property no matter what council decided to do with the UniDev proposal.

Councilors agreed to go ahead with those items but said negotiations with UniDev on the costs need to happen.