On December 15, the on-line news agency New Mexico Sun published the below guest column:
Keller’s motel conversion plan ‘not ready for prime time’
By Pete Dinelli
“Motel conversions” is a plan where the City’s Family & Community Services Department will acquire and renovate existing motels to develop low-income affordable housing options. They are just one part of Mayor Tim Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ” plan to add 5,000 housing units to the existing housing supply by 2025 to alleviate the city’s housing shortage. Keller’s plan calls for motel conversions to house 1,000 people with low and moderate incomes by 2025. A city council zoning code amendment Keller pushed through allows an exemption for affordable housing projects funded by the city allowing kitchens to be small, without full-sized ovens and refrigerators and allow the substitution of a microwave or hot plate for a standard oven or range.
On December 6, with only a 4-day public notice and reservations required, the City’s Family and Community held a public meeting to discuss the Keller Administration’s motel conversions plan. A little over 100 people attended the meeting which had a mediator oversee the meeting. Mayor Keller did not attend and neither did any city councilor.
The first biggest take away from the City’s presentation on motel conversions is that they are not intended to be used as “homeless shelters” but there is absolutory no guarantee that will not happen. The intent is that those who will be housed in them must have some sort of income, either through social security or other government assistance or be gainfully employed, and they must pay rent. The city failed miserably in identifying the screening criteria that will be utilized for occupants and the minimum income levels.
The second biggest takeaway from the city’s December 6 presentation is that the motel conversion program has been haphazardly put together in order to make it part of Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ” plan. The city officials were clearly on the defensive feeling there was need to have a professional mediator who announced repeatedly how people should conduct themselves, be polite and not be confrontational to the city presenters.
The third major takeaway from the meeting is that the city’s estimated cost of $100,000 per unit to fix up or remodel existing motels is excessive and likely a waste of taxpayer money and financing. Simply put, many times it is cheaper and makes more sense to demolish and rebuild substandard motels. Approximately 15 years ago, the city’s Safe City Strike Force took civil code enforcement action against a number of the 150 motels up and down central with many ordered shut down until repairs were made. The motel owners were ordered to bring their properties into code compliance that usually cost thousands.
The Safe City Strike Force was responsible for the demolition of at least seven (7) blighted motels that were beyond repair. Those motels were demolished because it was cheaper and made more sense to tear them down rather than spends hundreds to remodel. The Central motels that the Safe City Strike Force took action against include the Gaslight (demolished), The Zia Motel (demolished), The Royal Inn (demolished), Route 66 (demolished), the Aztec Motel (demolished), the Hacienda, Cibola Court, Super-8 (renovated by owner), the Travel Inn (renovated by owner), Nob Hill Motel (renovated by owner), the Premier Motel (renovated by owner) the De Anza (purchased by City for historical significance), the No Name, the Canyon Road (demolished), Hill Top Lodge, American Inn (demolished), the El Vado (purchased by City for historical significance), the Interstate Inn (demolished).
Simply put, the city’s “motel conversion” plan is not ready for prime time. It appears Mayor Keller rushed to have it included as part of his “Housing Forward ABQ” plan without it being completely formulated or vetted. The city’s December 6 public meeting was very short on details as to what motels have been targeted, the projected overall funding for the program, no details as to the private-public partnerships and no identifying those in the real estate and development community and the construction industry the Keller administration is working with.
The city is spending between $60 million and upwards of $100 million a year on affordable and supportive housing. The biggest unanswered question is does the city have any business going into the “hotel conversion” business and begin operating such facilities in addition to what it is already being spent? Given the December 6 public meeting and all the written questions that went totally unanswered and ignored, it is not at all likely that the city has a realistic plan in place to achieve its goal of 1,000-units relying on motel conversions.
The link to the New Mexico Sun article is here:
TARGETED AREA IDENTIFIED
One area of the city that has been targeted in particular by the Keller Administration for motel conversions is “Hotel Circle” in the North East Heights. Located in the area are a number of motels in the largest shopping area in SE and NE Albuquerque near I-40. The businesses in the area include Target, Office Depot, Best Buy, Home Store, PetCo and the Mattress Store and restaurants such as Sadies, the Owl Café, and Applebee’s and other businesses.
The city is looking into buying potential properties and claims it has not yet completed any purchases. Sources have confirmed the Keller Administration wants to buy the former Sure Stay Hotel located at 10330 Hotel Circle NE and also has its eye on purchasing the abandoned and boarded up Ramada Inn for a motel conversion.
The City Department of Family & Community Services is in the process purchasing the Sure Stay Hotel by using Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding of $3,059,662.12 in Community Development Block Grant, $2,443,724.00 from Public Facilities monies and $615,938.12 from Foreclosure Prevention for a total property purchase of $6,119,324.24. She also outlines how the Department of Family and Community Services has submitted a request to the HUD Albuquerque Field Office for the release of CARES and HOME American Rescue Plan funding to be used to purchase Sure Stay Hotel and the renovation project for the permanent housing with supportive services.
Strong neighborhood and business opposition has emerged and galvanized around the city’s attempted purchase of the Sure Stay Motel, with some petitioning the city to change the zoning code to disallow motel conversions. A petition with well over 250 signatures of business owners and residents in the area was secured within a few days has been submitted to the city.