Only a fraction of ABQ ‘affordable housing’ funding slated for long-term housing

Ordinance would also set aside nearly $40 million for police building maintenance compared with $25.6 million for shelter

By: - November 22, 2021 5:55 am

A coalition of Albuquerque residents reframed the debate around the New Mexico United Stadium bond proposal to instead focus on the city’s housing needs. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

As housing pressures mount in Albuquerque, Councilors Brook Bassan and Klarissa Peña introduced an ordinance that sets aside bond money for affordable housing. But so far, it’s unclear exactly how much would really go toward creating long-term, low-cost options.

In the councilors’ bill, $25.6 million is cordoned off for “affordable housing,” but the only project specified is a “sobering center.

The legislation states that the money would be “allocated for acquiring, improving and equipping housing facilities, including a sobering center,” but nothing else is listed specifically. 

Though the sobering center is not housing, Peña said people may be able to sleep there.

“I would suspect it would be a place for somebody to sleep or to take the time they need to get back to where they need to be,” she said. 

According to a city study, the sobering center would be a place for city officials to “divert individuals with low-acuity intoxication from overcrowded emergency departments and jail to a safe place to gain sobriety and to access links to treatment, housing and other unmet social needs.”

From Councilor Peña’s notes:

Out of that total $25.6 million: 

  • $6.7 million would go to the sobering center
  • $5 million would go toward reconstructing a motel to help chronically unhoused people
  • $5 million would go toward the first phase of renovations at the Gibson Medical Center for Gateway
  • The rest — $8.9 million if those calculations are correct — would be left to the discretion of the other councilors and their priorities for housing.

It’s part of Gateway, Peña said, which is a forthcoming overnight shelter and hub of services for people experiencing homelessness. Another $5 million of the money allocated to affordable housing is for the shelter, according to Peña’s notes. It’s for the first renovations of the Gibson Medical Center, which is where it’s being built.

Where’s the breakdown?

Unlike every other category described in the legislation, the Affordable Housing portion of the measure does not lay out specific line items for expenses related to each project. Peña said the lack of detail in the legislation is a mistake.

“It should be in the bill,” Peña said. “I don’t know why it’s not broken out in there.”

Neither the proposed ordinance nor the study mention the construction of long-term affordable housing. 

Need far outpaces funding

Peña added that the City Council passed legislation bringing the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to $10 million.

According to the Trust Fund’s latest annual report in 2020, city-funded affordable housing developments have created or were in the process of creating 1,569 total housing units. Of those, 1,364 units were designated as “affordable” for households with incomes at or below 80% of the city’s median family income.

That’s less than one-tenth of the need, research suggests. Albuquerque today has a gap of about 15,500 units of affordable housing for renter households with extremely low incomes, according to a study from last year by the Urban Institute.

“Although this is a large amount of money, in perspective of what the need is, we’re going to have to invest a lot more,” Peña said.

Would-be stadium money

Vocal opponents of the stadium called for the city to help people living without shelter first. On Election Day, more than seven out of every 10 Burqueños said yes to a bond question on the ballot for affordable housing projects.

Since the stadium bond didn’t pass, that $50 million in bond money is still available for the city to use in other ways. Including the would-be stadium money, the city can borrow $110 million as bonds that would be paid back using Gross Receipts Tax revenue.

For parks and rec

  • $12 million for the North Domingo Baca Aquatic Center
  • $10 million for the Cibola Loop Multi-Generational Center
  • $4 million for the Westgate Community Center
  • $4 million for the Loma Linda Community Center
  • $3 million for the Los Altos Pump
  • $3 million for the West Side Recreation Fields
  • $2 million for the Civic Plaza Awning
  • $1.5 million for Phil Chacon Park
  • $1 million for the West Side Indoor Recreation Complex

To spend it, the measure from Peña and Bassan also sets aside bond money for police building maintenance, recreation centers, parks and Open Space. 

“With that, we are proposing what the voters had said they wanted us to address,” Peña said. “Rather than building a stadium, it was very clear that people wanted us to address public safety and homelessness in our community.”

Police spending

Maintenance on police buildings is slated for over $13 million more than the affordable housing category. According to the ordinance, $38.9 million would go to the main Downtown building for the Albuquerque Police Department, plus a facility on the West Side, another at the intersection of San Mateo and Katheryn, the APD Academy and the second phase of work on the Southeast Area Command building in the International District. 

Peña said if a supermajority of city councilors vote in favor of the ordinance, they do not need to put spending on the ballot again.


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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.