On October 18, 2022, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to announce his “Housing Forward ABQ Plan”. It is a “multifaceted initiative” where Keller 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. According to Keller, the city is in a major “housing crisis” and the city needs between 13,000 and 28,000 new housing units.
The “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” was embodied in amendments to the Integrated Development (IDO) which is the city’s zoning laws. The IDO was enacted in 2017 and can be amended and updated once a year. Thus far, it has been amended by the City Council well over 250 times. The proposed legislation known as O-22-54 was sponsored by City Councilors Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones. Both Benton and Jones as well as Democrat City Councilor Pat Davis announced that they are not seeking re-election to the council with the municipal election scheduled for November 7.
To add the 5,000 new housing units, Keller proposed that the City of Albuquerque fund and be involved with the construction of new low-income housing. The strategy includes “motel conversions” where the city buys existing motels or commercial office space and converts them into low-income housing. It includes allowing both “casitas” and duplex additions” on existing residential properties as permissive uses and not as conditional uses.
The most controversial provision of Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ” plan was the introduction to the City Council of City Council Ordinance 0-22-54. Mayor Keller has called the legislation “transformative” updates to Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) to carry out his “Housing Forward ABQ”. The amendments contained in 0-22-54 was to allow the construction of 750 square foot casitas and 750 square foot duplex additions on every single existing R-1 residential lot that already has single family house built on it in order to increase density. The amendments as originally proposed would allow one “casita” and one “duplex addition” with a kitchen and separate entrance to an existing structure on all built out lots. City officials have said that 68% of the city’s existing housing is single-family detached homes with 120,000 existing residential lots with already built residences.
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.
CASITAS IN, DUPLEXES OUT, JONES FLIP FLOPS AGAIN
On June 5, the Albuquerque City Council at its regularly scheduled meeting, took public comments on Mayor Keller’s Housing Forward Initiative, O-22-54. Well over 100 people signed up to testify before the city council, for and against the proposed amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). After the June 5 meeting, the council deferred enactment of 0-22-54 to June 21 for final action by the 9-member city council.
On June 21, after hearing more public comments from upwards of 40 people, Albuquerque City council voted 5-4 to approve the zoning code changes with amendments made to O-22-54. The 5 City Councilors who voted in favor of the amendments were the bill sponsors progressive Democrat Isaac Benton and Conservative Republican Trudy Jones and Progressive Democrats Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelkorn and moderate Democrat Klarissa Pena. Voting NO were Conservative Democrat Louis Sanchez, and conservative Republicans Dan Lewis, Renee Grout and Brook Bassan.
The version of the bill that ultimately passed on a 5-4 vote was amended extensively. The city council voted to allow casita construction a “permissive use” in all single-family R–1 zone and reduce parking requirements for some multifamily properties and changing building height limitations. The city council voted to strike the amendment and to not allow duplexes to be permissively zoned in R–1 zone areas, which make up about two-thirds of the city.
Other amendments adopted included additional setbacks for backyard casitas of 5 feet on either the back or side of a property’s lot lines and a limit on the height of accessory dwelling units, but not other accessory buildings, to the same height as the main building on the lot. The enactment of the ordinance also paves the way for converting motel properties into housing and includes provisions to ease parking challenges at developments.
A proposed reduction to multifamily parking requirements was removed, as well as additional building height “bonuses,” which would have allowed developers to build higher when building multifamily or workforce housing. The current iteration of the zoning code does have some building height bonuses, but the original legislation would have greatly expanded them.
The biggest point of contention dealt with by the city council was whether casitas would be allowed as a “conditional use” mandating and application process or a “permissive use” giving the planning department unilateral authority to grant construction in R–1 zones.
The amendment making casitas a zoning conditional use passed 5-4. However, City Councilor Trudy Jones “flipped” her vote changing her mind, and the measure failed. This is not the first time Trudy Jones has flip flopped on a controversial zoning change to the Integrated Development Ordinance. Last year she voted NO to allow city sanctioned tent encampments for the homeless known as Safe Outdoor Spaces in all 9 city council districts only to change her mind and vote YES for Safe Outdoor Spaces, which passed on a 5-4 vote.
Because casitas known as Accessory Dwelling Units are now zoned permissively in R–1 zones, any home or property owner living in the area would automatically be qualified for a permit to build, so long as they meet the zoning and building standards, which include lot size, accessory structure size as well as setback and height requirements. Casitas will require water and sewer lines and electric hook ups which will be above and over mere construction costs.
Property owners, homeowners and neighborhood associations who opposed casita and duplex development advocated that they be conditional use zoning and not permissive use zoning as a compromise. During the June 21 council meeting, the Keller Administration said “conditional use” zoning would only slow down the permitting process at a time when urgency exists to build more housing. The Keller Administration said that even with permissive zoning, neighborhood associations would still invited to participate in pre-submittal meetings. For neighborhoods that don’t have a recognized neighborhood association, the closest association would be invited.
Republican City Councilor Renee Grout, who ultimately voted No on the zoning changes has advocated for neighborhood associations throughout the months-long process. She said the city needed to do a better job at working with the neighbor hood associations.
MAYOR KELLER REACTS
After the city council vote, Mayor Tim Keller issued the following statement:
“As mayor, I proposed bold ideas to address our housing challenges, council made reasonable changes to address neighborhood aesthetic concerns raised through the nearly 9-month input process, and we came to a solution that might not give everyone exactly what they wanted, but strikes a balance to benefit Albuquerque.”
Links to quoted news sources are here:
PUBLIC COMMENTS NOT HEARD BY CITY COUNCIL
From December of 202 to March 20, 2023, the Keller Administration held 6 public meetings at various quadrants of the city to promote and educate the general public on the “Housing Forward ABQ Plan”. All 5 public meeting were very well attended and upwards 500 people attended in total. Keller Administration officials, including the Mayor’s Office, the Family Community Services Department, the Planning Department and the Albuquerque Police Department all made presentation on the various aspects of the “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” using slide presentations.
The presentations lasted for one hour and included explaining motel conversations, allowing casita and duplex development on 68% of the city zoned for residential development, changes to the nuisance abatement laws and low income housing efforts The proposals for motel conversions and casita and duplex development were met with hostility and mistrust by an overwhelming majority of property and homeowners. The Keller Administration repeatedly pointed out that if anyone objected to the “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” they would have to contact their city councilor. Not a single city counselor attended any one of the meetings and it is unknown to what extent the Keller Administration forwarded to the City Council public comments and concerns. However, it is known that no changes were made to the “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” base on the public comments made at the meetings.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, especially established neighborhood associations for historic areas of the city like Barelas and the South Broadway and Martineztown area, that so called Progressive Democrat Isaac Benton and conservative Republican Trudy Jones carried the water for Mayor Tim Keller and were the sponsors of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ plan legislation amending the IDO. Both city councilors had a distain for the previous comprehensive zoning code that was replaced by the IDO. Both voted for the enactment of the IDO in 2017. Both Benton and Jones have voted for and are in support of “motel conversions” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces”.
Democrat Benton is a retired architect and Republican Jones is a retired real estate agent and both have contempt for many of the sector development plans that placed limitations on developers, especially in historical areas of the city.
Benton for years has advocated for major changes to ease up on restrictions on secondary dwelling units, casitas, in backyards over the objections of his own progressive constituents and the historical areas of the city he represents. Benton admitted it when he said this:
“We’ve had these arguments over the years with some of my most progressive neighborhoods that don’t even want to have a secondary dwelling unit be allowed in their backyard or back on the alley. … You know, we’ve got to change that discussion. We have to open up for our neighbors, of all walks of life, to be able to live and work here.”
Republican Jones throughout her 16 years on the city council has always been considered in the pockets of the real estate and the development communities over the interests of property owners and neighborhoods. Over the years, she has received literally thousands of dollars in contributions from both the real estate industry and the development industry each time she has run for city council. She has never gone the “public finance” route and has always privately financed her city council campaigns. She was also the sponsor of the amendment to the IDO that removed the mandatory requirement for public input for special uses giving more authority to the planning department.
A WINK AND A NOD TO DEVELOPERS
It is downright disgusting that so called Progressive Democrats Issac Benton, Pat Davis, and Tammy Fiebelkorn have thrown their support behind the real estate development and investment community who are more interested in “profit over people” to the detriment of their own Districts. Benton, Davis and Jones are leaving the City Council in 5 months, so they really do not give a s— what their constituents have to say. That is ditto for Fiebelkorn who has offended and insulted many of her constituents with her condescending and abrasive personality.
Fiebelkorn even cozied up to developers by giving a bus tour for “investment sites and projects”. On June 7, City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn boasted to the District 7 Neighborhood Association Coalition that she would be giving the local chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Park (NAIOP) personnel a bus tour of District 7 on June 8 to look at possible “investment sites and projects” and she followed through with the bus tour.
It does not take a mental genius to figure out what NAIOP was up to when it takes a bus tour of District 7 for “investment sites and projects.” It is looking for residential properties to target for casitas and duplex development. NAIOP has endorsed allowing casita and duplex development on all residential property in the city. NAIOP is considered the most influential business and political organizations in the city. It boasts membership of over 300 of developers, contractors and investors. It has its own Political Action Committee for lobbying and supports candidates for office.
NAIOP membership consistently bids on city construction contracts and contributes to races for city council and mayor usually Republican candidates. In 2013, NAIOP made the enactment of the Integrated Development Ordinance a major priority which repealed many sector development plans enacted over 50 years that protected neighborhoods and historical areas of the city.
Lets hope those that replace Benton, Davis and Jones will actually listen to their constituents which would be a welcome change by any measure for all three of their districts. Benton, Davis and Fiebelkorn all 3 falsely argue that more density will lower rents and create affordable housing. That is not how the market forces work and they know that. Landlords and realtors will always charge what the market will bear and could not care less about low income housing let alone affordable housing. Rents and home values never come down, and the best that can be hoped for is that they stabilize. Mayor Tim Keller calls himself a Progressive Democrat as he gives a wink and a nod to the business and development community with his “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” that overwhelming favors developers over neighborhoods.
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 effectively used the short-term housing “crunch” to declare a “housing crisis” to allow the city council to shove his Housing Forward ABQ Plan down the throats of city property owners. Keller advocated zoning changes to increase density by severely relaxing zoning restrictions to favor investors and the developers that will destroy entire neighborhoods.
Supporters of casitas argued throughout the process they are needed to increase density, create affordable housing and to get away from “urban sprawl”. They repeatedly made the misleading representation that many within the community want additional housing for extended families making reference to “mother-in-law quarters”. Calling casitas “mother-in-law quarters” is nothing more than a ploy to make the proposal palatable to the general public.
PREDICTION OF THINGS TO COME
Reclassification zoning of all R-1 single-family lots to allow for 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 casita rental areas. This has already happened in the South area of the University of New Mexico dramatically degrading the character of neighborhoods and the city as a whole. It will now happen, or is already happening, in the South East Heights International District and historic areas of downtown.
To put the argument in perspective, an individual investor will be able to purchase single-family homes to rent and then build a separate 750-square-foot free-standing casita. The result is a one-home rental being converted into 2 separate rental units, doubling investment and income. 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 with increases in property taxes.
The Keller Administration has never discussed the actual cost of construction of 750 square foot casitas or even duplex remodeling. They simply presume property owners will be able to afford to do it themselves which is not at all 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. To build and construct a 750 foot casita at the $175 foot construction cost would be $131,425 (750 sq ft X 175 = $131,421). 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 of a casita.
Very few people have the financial ability to invest another $130,000 to $150,000 in homes they already own. The casitas 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.
People buy single detached homes wanting to live in low density neighborhoods not high density areas that will reduce their quality of life and the peaceful use and enjoyment of their homes and families. Allowing a casita or for that matter any duplex development, which in all likelihood will be rentals on single family properties, will seriously damage the character of any neighborhood.
People buy their most important asset, their home, with the expectation they can trust the city not to change substantially the density, quality and appearance of their neighborhood. What happened with the enactment of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ Plan and amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance was a breach of trust between home owners, property owners and the city and its elected officials who put “profits over people” to benefit the development and investment industry.
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