County to acquire L.A. apartments

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By Jennifer Garcia

County Council decided last night to try to protect their downtown revitalization plan by acquiring the Los Alamos Apartments, which have been in foreclosure since May.

The apartments sit in the middle of Central Avenue, on what is considered a prime piece of downtown property. Council passed the motion to acquire the property 6-0. Councilor Jim West was absent.

As a result of the decision, the county will give Housing and Urban Development $75,000 in earnest money and authorize County Administrator Max Baker to execute the contract for purchase to acquire the buildings.

The council met in a special session last night to discuss this issue and the bond sale that took place on Tuesday.

During last night’s meeting, council met in closed session for about an hour to discuss whether or not to meet HUD’s Oct. 3 deadline for submitting the earnest money and purchase contract.

Had council decided not to proceed with the purchase, the Santa Fe County Civic Housing Authority would have been given the chance to purchase the property. If they passed on the offer, the foreclosure sale would have proceeded, which would have opened the sale up to anyone from anywhere.

As a stipulation of the sale, the county would be responsible for providing housing for 13 low-income and chronically homeless people currently occupying the apartment complex. Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro made clear the county’s intentions for the property at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

“This is not about council getting into the apartment business,” Mortillaro said. “The intent is to remove four of the five apartment buildings. The HUD requirements can be met by keeping one building,” he continued.

Two members of the public were present at last night’s meeting and waited patiently for their opinions on the purchase to be heard.

Lesley Olsher, a social worker and case manager with L.A. Cares made a presentation to council regarding the homeless population in Los Alamos. She also wanted council to know how important the purchase of the apartments is to the homeless population.

“I encourage the county to purchase this building,” Olsher said. “We currently have five people or families that are homeless. The housing issue is huge. People don’t think we have poverty here, but we do.”

Tracy Langford, a local Realtor, was also present at the meeting last night. She encouraged council to wait on making a decision until a later date.

“It would be better served to wait, since Santa Fe probably would not accept an offer,” Langford said.

She pointed out that housing for people in the service industry would be needed once construction is complete and businesses move in to the Entrada project at the Airport Basin.

“Wait until the auction, you might be able to buy it for less and not have as many restrictions,” she said. “I think taking a role in the private community market may not be warranted here. The public market may surprise you.”

Councilor Ken Milder said he was excited about the growth.

“There’s a lot of risks in not acting on the existing offer,” he said. He expressed concern over the possibility of another entity buying the property and not developing it.

“I’m more worried that development would not happen. The county needs to proceed to make sure the property is developed to meet the downtown development plan,” he said.

Council Chair Jim Hall was not enthused about the options council was presented with.

“I resent that we have to proceed in this manner and take the property out of public hands,” he said. “But the risks of not having the land developed are too high.”

Hall also said that this deal represents a unique opportunity to take control of a major piece of land downtown.

“We have no intention of leaving and managing the 132 units,” he said. “We are going to redevelop and turn it over to the private sector as soon as possible.”