Housing proposal questions crop up

By Karl Terry, PNT managing editor

Opinions on the idea of an affordable housing project in Portales appear to be mixed among builders and real estate professionals with some saluting the idea and others favoring a free-market approach.

Led by Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr., city of Portales officials have been studying an affordable housing project targeted at the lack of available homes for sale in the $80,000 to $150,000 price range.

The project proposes to build 150 homes on city-owned land near the golf course. City officials have applied for state financial assistance through the Workforce Housing Development program and would partner with New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority for the financing.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Wanda Graham, owner of Kiva Realty in Portales.

Graham said new homes in lower price ranges are something that would be a benefit to the local market.

“There’s not any new builds in that price range,” Graham said. “There are homes available (in that range), but not new.”

Jack Merrick, owner of Buena Vista Realty in Portales, isn’t convinced of the need for the project. He believes the market will correct itself.

“I’m just not sure how I feel about the city getting involved in it,” Merrick said. “It’s a financial thing that will work itself out.”

Merrick and other local real estate folks agree that the market is shifting to become more urban and the wild card may be how the change in mission and growth at Cannon Air Force Base affects Portales real estate.

“I respect Ortega for what he’s doing,” Merrick said, even though he doesn’t agree.

Local builder Danny Heflin said the concept is a good idea, but he worries about the pace proposed for the project and would like to see it built in small phases, keeping more of the construction dollars at work in the Portales economy.

He said his company’s busy and probably wouldn’t be interested in the taking on that big a project. He said if it was kept local he would likely pitch in and build a few homes just to support keeping the money at home.

In 2004, the city met with local builders to discuss the lack of moderately priced housing but the mayor said commitment to building in that price range was lacking. At a meeting this week with Unidev he reiterated that most of the homes being built are more than $200,000 and out of reach for employees of the city of Portales, Eastern New Mexico University and Portales Municipal Schools.

Heflin said he believes the housing market has softened recently and he’s concerned about what might happen with too much inventory on the market.

“Tell me what we’re going to do if we build 20 of them and nobody pounces on them,” Heflin asked rhetorically. “It takes away from our real estate base here.”

Josh Rolan, a broker at REMAX First Place Realtors, in Portales, said the brokers in his office are excited about the prospects for the project.

“It seems like the city seems to be pretty on point with that $80 to $150 (thousand) range,” Rolan said. “There’s a pretty big demand in that range. I don’t think it’s going to have anything but a positive impact on Portales.”

Rolan said the project would have its biggest effect on people who are renting and would like a home but can’t quite break into the market. He said many of the homes in the targeted price range are older homes built in the 1950s and ’60s and people these days are hesitant to buy an older home and likely won’t have the cash to make upgrades.

“We find folks are willing to spend a little more for something nicer,” Rolan said.

Unidev officials have said that one of the goals of the project should be to provide amenities homebuyers are demanding.
Merrick and Heflin also worry by adding amenities corners will be cut in an effort to keep the price down and the quality of the homes will be sacrificed.

“You build a cheap house for a low price and pretty soon you’re going to have a cheap neighborhood,” Merrick said.