City backs down from workforce housing proposal

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

The city of Portales backed away from the table Tuesday where they had been studying the feasiblility of workforce housing.

In a unanimous vote during their regular meeting Portales city councilors decided to withdraw from a program that would have built 150 units of workforce housing on city-owned land near the golf course.

UniDev a company out of Bethesda, Md. completed a feasibility study on the project in June of 2007 and city council accepted the study at that time. Councilors were bothered by the higher than anticipated construction costs that the study showed and began working with UniDev to try and get the cost down.

In making the recommendation to leave the project, Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. noted the cost of construction along with the need to set up a long-term non-profit corporation to manage the units and the undesirablity of homes built on leased land as reasons for the recommendation.

“It seems to me like contractors are now building more homes,” noted Councilor Jake Lopez. “It seems like to me, if we continue, we would be in competition with local contractors.”

“It seems to me like the prices were just out of the ballpark for around here,” Councilor D.K. Shafer said.

Councilor Robert De Los Santos lauded the effort but agreed it was time to get out. He urged fellow councilors to keep an open mind about workforce housing for the future, however.

Ortega said he believes more houses are being built and signals have indicated that even more is coming, which has served to ease the problem.

“I think the opportunity for affordable home ownership is different today than what it was three years ago (when the city began studying the idea), even two years ago,” Ortega said.

While the original goals of the program were to build homes priced from $85,000 to $120,000, UniDev offered an example in its study of a 1,200 square foot home that would sell for $148,570. Councilors compared that price in one meeting last summer to a 1,600 square foot home a local builder had constructed that sold for under $160,000 and included the land.

The study, which was to have cost between $60,000 and $150,000, was funded by the state with the city matching one-third of the cost.

Ortega said the city’s obligations to UniDev in the study have been met.

In other business councilors:

• Gave approval to a resolution authorizing the use of $65,000 in economic development funds for a new business called Siever Sports Medicine which is locating downtown. The business, proposed by Dr. Joel Sievers of Portales will provide sports medicine, digital radiography, a quick gym and climbing wall and an orthotics lab. The business could eventually employ as many as 10 people.

• Approved a resolution declaring a fire truck surplus and donating it to the Village of Dora.