On May 10, 2023, the online news agency published the below 750 word opinion guest column that includes the cost estimates for construction of casitas and duplexes on the 120,000 residential lots with existing homes to increase densty.
Headline: “Tim Keller’s shanty town of casitas, duplexes and homeless encampments”
“A shanty town is loosely defined as an area of improvised buildings known as shanties or shacks of poor construction that lack adequate infrastructure including proper sanitation, safe water supply, electricity and street drainage and parking. Mayor Tim Keller wants enactment by the City Council of two major amendments to the zoning laws that will transform the city into a shanty town. The amendments will allow the construction of 750 square-foot “casitas” and “duplex” additions in the backyards of all 120,000 residential lots that have existing homes. The City Council has voted to allow 18 city-sanctioned Safe Outdoor Space tent encampments for the homeless to help with the “shanty town ambiance.”
The casita and duplex amendments are part of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ Plan. It is a “multifaceted initiative” where Keller has set the goal of adding 5,000 new housing units across the city by 2025 above and beyond what private industry normally creates each year. Keller has proclaimed the city is in a major “housing crisis” and the city immediately needs 13,000 to 28,000 more housing units.
The zoning code amendments would make both casitas and duplex additions “permissive uses” and not “conditional uses” as they are now and have always been historically. A “conditional use” requires an application process with the city Planning Department, notice to surrounding property owners and affected neighborhood associations and provides for appeal rights. A “permissive use” would give the Planning Department exclusive authority to issue permits for construction without notices and hearings and with no appeal process. Objecting property owners and neighborhood associations to the permissive casita and duplex uses would be relegated to filing lawsuits to enforce covenants and restrictions.
Reclassification zoning of all single-family lots to allow residential duplex development and casita development will encourage large private investors and real estate developers, including out-of-state corporate entities, to buy up distressed properties to lease and convert whole blocks into rental duplexes with substandard rental casitas. This will dramatically degrade the character of neighborhoods and the city as a whole.
To put the argument in perspective, an individual investor will be able to purchase single-family homes to rent, add a 750-square-foot two-family home addition and build a separate 750-square-foot free-standing casita. The result is a one-home rental being converted into three separate rental units. Such development will increase an area’s property values and property taxes. It will also decrease the availability of affordable homes and raise rental prices even higher. It will increase gentrification in the more historical areas of the city as generational residents will be squeezed out by the developers and increases in property taxes.
The Keller Administration has never discussed the actual cost of construction of 750 square foot casitas and duplex remodeling. They simply presume property owners will be able to afford to do it themselves which is not likely given the high cost of construction and materials. Home builders serving the Albuquerque area estimate the cost to build residents in Albuquerque is between $175 to $275 per square foot. It’s a cost that equally applies to casitas and duplex development. To build and construct a 750 foot casita or duplex at the $175 foot construction cost would be $131,425 (750 sq ft X 175 = $131,421) and to build both $262,848. These are just actual construction costs. The addition of plumbing, sewer, electrical and gas hook ups and permits will likely add an additional $30,000 to $50,000 to the final construction costs.
Very few people have the financial ability to invest another $130,000 to $250,000 in homes they already own. The casitas and duplexes will be used predominantly by outside investors and developers as rental units. More outside investors are buying multifamily properties around the city. According to New Mexico Apartment Advisors CEO Todd Clarke, there are currently 1,999 investors looking in the Albuquerque multifamily market, a number that has increased sixfold since before the pandemic.
The housing shortage is related to economics, the development community’s inability to keep up with supply and demand and the public’s inability to purchase housing or qualify for housing mortgage loans. The shortage of rental properties has resulted in dramatic increases in rents. Keller is using the short-term housing “crunch” to declare a “housing crisis” to shove his Housing Forward ABQ Plan down the throats of city property owners. Keller is advocating zoning changes to increase density by severely relaxing zoning restrictions to favor investors and the developers that will destroy entire neighborhoods. Tell City Council to vote NO on Keller’s plan.”
Pete Dinelli is a native of Albuquerque. He is a licensed New Mexico attorney with 27 years of municipal and state government service including as an assistant attorney general, assistant district attorney prosecuting violent crimes, city of Albuquerque deputy city attorney and chief public safety officer, Albuquerque city councilor, and several years in private practice. Dinelli publishes a blog covering politics in New Mexico: www.PeteDinelli.com.
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