Half of Belen residents qualify for housing

........................................................................................................................................................................................

With half of Belen's population earning less than 60 percent of the area median income, it's not a surprise that home ownership has declined and renter-occupied housing has increased within the last 10 years.

Last month, Belen city councilors received an executive summary of a five-year plan, which not only highlights the housing needs within the Hub City, but offers an implementation plan to get the ball rolling on addressing these housing gaps.

The complete version of the Affordable Housing Plan, developed by Housing Strategy Partners who specialize in affordable housing planning and policy development, will be given to city officials once the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority gives their stamp of approval on the plan.

The housing plan is required by state law under the 2007 Affordable Housing Act that allows governmental entities to use public resources to support affordable housing efforts without violating the state's anti-donation clause, which prevents governmental bodies from aiding private entities.

With this plan in hand, the city can begin donating land to build affordable housing, said Daniel Werwath of Housing Strategy Partners.

Housing Strategy Partners developed this plan by analyzing responses from community meetings, interviews, surveys and geographic data.

"What's clear from income numbers and development numbers is that affordable rental housing is by far the biggest need," Werwath said. "As you can see, you've got basically half of the population that qualifies for affordable rental."

Homeowners "are likely" to either live in mobile homes, if their home is less than 30 years old, or in "possibly" substandard housing if they live in older homes needing energy efficient modifications and rehabilitation.

"Fewer of Belen's young people are becoming homeowners, while more and more of Belen's Baby Boomers are becoming renters," the AHP states.

Not to mention the large number of off-market housing placing Belen neighborhoods "at risk of deterioration and threatens surrounding home values," the AHP states.

The plan revealed the number of cost-burdened households, or housing costs exceeding more than 30 percent of annual household incomes, is "relatively high" in Belen at 34 percent, compared to 29.1 percent in Valencia County, 25.5 percent in the state and 30.4 percent throughout the nation.

To address the gap between household incomes and housing costs, the city must create income-restricted rental units, rehabilitate houses of low-income renters and owners and provide home buyer assistance, the AHP states.

"If people can get stabilized, they can start saving money and get on track to eventually being homeowners, and it helps them be better members of a community instead of worrying day to day about trying to meet their basic needs," Werwath said.

The AHP's implementation plan offers recommendations to stimulate a "ripple effect" in real estate development, such as creating a City of Belen Affordable Housing Trust Fund, creating a citywide home ownership education and counseling program, developing a home rehabilitation/energy efficiency improvement program, combining affordable housing development program with economic redevelopment efforts and prioritizing rehabilitation of existing buildings.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.