Incredibly, the City Council has prioritized our wants ahead of our needs. And so, park improvements will go ahead as scheduled. And, thankfully, so will construction of a new fire station on the north side of the East Mesa.
But the most critical need addressed by the bond issue is affordable housing. And yet, it is the only one not moving forward.
City Treasurer Erika Jacquez told members of the City Council that the economy is too “volatile” right now. Really? The only volatility in the city budget recently has been how fast it has grown.
The city budget increased by nearly $16 million in the current fiscal year. And, during a budget retreat last month, council members were told that revenue for the next fiscal year is expected to be about $10 million more than anticipated. And yet there’s no money for affordable housing?
Maybe by the end of the year the economy will be less volatile, and we can finally address our critical shortage, Jacquez said. If not, maybe by the start of next year.
Funding for affordable housing is taxable, while the other projects will not be. That is apparently why it is being put on hold. One would hope council members were informed of that ahead of time and factored it into the total amount of the bond.
But even if they didn’t, that’s no excuse for putting parks ahead of housing.
Las Cruces has an affordable housing shortage of about 5,600 units, City Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Natalie Green told the Las Cruces Bulletin before the election. That is caused by a sharp increase in the average sales price for a home in Las Cruces, up from $183,000 in 2009 to $311,000 last year.
Affordable housing is defined as no more than 30 percent of the occupant’s income. Wages in Las Cruces have not climbed nearly as fast as housing prices. About 43 percent of renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income, forcing them to cut back on other family expenses.
Obviously, $6 million would not come close to solving the problem. The plan was to use that money to leverage state and federal funding, bringing the total to $36.5 million. That would have allowed for the construction of 175 new units.
It would have been a modest start. Now, even that’s on hold.
Shelter comes right after food and water on the list of basic needs for human survival. Our lack of affordable housing has had a negative impact on our community in many ways - increasing homelessness, contributing to our escalating crime rate and making it more difficult to attract new workers and industry.
The City Council needs to reconsider its decision to put affordable housing on the back burner. We can’t afford to wait until next year. Construction needed to start yesterday.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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