Opinion: Residents support affordable housing

By Andy Jones, Taos
Posted 4/11/19

With a median household income of $35,314 (the national figure is $57,652), it is little wonder that many Taos County residents are having trouble finding affordable housing. While that figure is in …

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Opinion: Residents support affordable housing

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With a median household income of $35,314 (the national figure is $57,652), it is little wonder that many Taos County residents are having trouble finding affordable housing. While that figure is in the bottom half of New Mexico counties, the county also boasts the third-highest median home values in the state, and some of the highest gross median rents.

Add in the fact that our rental market is squeezed by a high percentage of homes being used as short-term rentals for tourists, then one can begin to realize that our current housing situation is in nothing short of crisis mode. We need solutions and we need them fast.

Recent estimates show it would take more than 600 new housing units to meet the current needs of the community. That's why members of the State of Homelessness in Taos coalition are concerned by The Taos News' reporting on two proposed affordable housing developments: the 72-unit "Ochenta Project" on five acres of formerly town-owned land on Herdner Road, and a less dense subdivision proposed on 22 acres of land at the corner of Weimer Road and Paseo del Cañon.

While we think it's imperative that community voices be included in the planning process for these developments, we feel the coverage by The Taos News has struck a divisive tone that does little to encourage residents and developers to find common ground and create projects that add value, and affordable housing units, to the community.

The most recent piece, published March 14, and online March 15, bore the headline, "Taos Neighbors Decry Affordable Housing Project." From the start, the headline represents only one perspective without speaking to the great need for projects of this scope in our community.

The article goes on to express some of the residents' concerns, with traffic being a top issue. It's a valid concern, and hopefully one that can be addressed by town staff's pending traffic study (at the Town Council meeting, staff were also directed to conduct a drainage study of the area), and through constructive dialogue between the developer and residents.

We are not asking that The Taos News silence the voices of concerned neighbors, only that there is more effort to present a balanced view and give voice not only to those in favor of the projects, but to also demonstrate the high level of need that exists in our community.

In fact, this newspaper has done a good job shining light on these issues in the past; it ran an engaging and informative series of articles focusing on the diverse populations of people in our community "who are increasingly facing housing instability." Last April, in an editorial praising the town's approval on fees for short-term rentals, The Taos News acknowledged Taos' "affordable housing crisis," writing, "there simply aren't enough houses or apartments or casitas available at a price most Taos residents can afford, whether to rent or buy."

Again, this January, The Taos News named affordable housing as one of the top 19 issues to watch in 2019, citing a 2010 study by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research that found "that only five percent of working adults in the town of Taos could afford the median cost of a Taos home then." The editorial conceded that the situation is "likely worse now."

It is. According to the 2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, more than 30 percent of households in Taos put more than 50 percent of their monthly wages toward rent (30 percent has long been the threshold considered sustainable). The need for affordable housing touches a huge cross-section of our population. This is an issue that affects us all.

We can all do better. Government leaders and developers can make more efforts to establish open and honest communication about projects and to come up with innovative solutions to address valid concerns. As residents, we can become better educated about the housing needs of our community, raise our gaze and become more inclusive. As affordable housing advocates, we can do a better job of providing concrete data that demonstrate the real need, and we can be more vocal and present at the types of meetings being covered in these news articles, and we plan to do so. And The Taos News can provide a voice for all of these viewpoints.

It will take all of this, and more, to keep current Taos residents from being priced out of the community. It will take vision, courage and understanding.

Andy Jones is a Taos resident and a member of the State of Homelessness in Taos coalition.

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