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Housing bond would address rising problem in Las Cruces

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Commentary:

Voters are savvy enough to know that there is no free lunch, but the fact that city general obligation bonds on the ballot every four years replace retiring bonds does allow supporters to honestly claim that passage will not increase taxes. And so, they usually pass.

Of the four GO bonds on the ballot this year, the one that has received the most attention would provide $6 million for affordable housing.

There is no question as to the need. A recent report by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority found that the city needs to add 5,600 rental units to meet current demands. But, an increase in crime, combined with the city’s mismanagement of the Desert Hope apartment complex, has tainted the very concept of affordable housing for some.

Desert Hope is a permanent supportive housing complex, with services that go way beyond an affordable rent payment. This bond is much more modest in its goals.

It would primarily be used to provide matching local money to leverage state and federal funds for land acquisition and housing development. It would allow the city to finally take full advantage of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which was established about a decade ago but has never had a dedicated funding source.

Ideally, the fund would allow city planners to bring new investments to older parts of the community that always seem to get passed over whenever developers bring something new and shiny to town. It’s important that affordable housing be available in all areas of the city.

A report released this summer showed that the median rent nationwide for a listed apartment had climbed to more than $2,000 a month for the first time ever. Average monthly rent payments were up by 15 percent in just the last year.

In Las Cruces, the number of active real estate listings decreased from 700 to just 350 in the two years from 2019 to 2021. That has resulted in a dramatic increase in the median price of a home, from about $197,000 to $250,000. Those increases all get passed down to the renters.

Combating homelessness doesn’t just mean getting people off the streets. It also means keeping people off the streets. These rental increases have pushed many of our fellow residents to the brink. State and federal rental assistance is available, but that does no good if there aren’t enough units to rent.

General obligation bonds are a way to re-invest in our community and improve the quality of life for city residents. Other bonds on the ballot this year would add a new fire station and upgrade our parks. Those are the more traditional uses for the bond.

But, few things are more important for a community than a housing market that provides different options throughout town that are affordable for the average worker.  

Park improvements will go primarily to La Llorona Park, which is in need of investment. But, the shoddy work done at Apodaca Park following the last bond makes it hard for me to support this one.

That job was done without the standard permitting and inspection process. The contractor argued those weren’t needed, as this was rehabilitation of an existing facility and not new construction, according to former Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member Frank Carril. City officials say everything was done legally. Maybe so, but cracks in the court were forming as they were cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

I don’t think my protest vote will defeat the issue, and that’s a good thing.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.