Habitat for Humanity seeks project

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By Jennifer Garcia

If all goes well between the county and Española’s Habitat for Humanity, one lucky family will have a house built in Los Alamos.


At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro spoke briefly about the possible conveyance of a piece of property located at the intersection of 38th and Diamond Drive to HFH.


“We’ve been in discussion with Española Habitat for Humanity to construct a home in Los Alamos,” Mortillaro said. However, he also stated that an affordable housing plan is needed. “We’ve started some of that work,” he commented.


HFH is interested in constructing a single family home at the 38th and Diamond location because they are seeking property and a project in Los Alamos County.


As a result, HFH has approached the county and inquired about the conveyance of a vacant lot on which the organization can build a home.


Yvonne Maestas Rios of HFH was present during Tuesday night’s meeting and spoke to councilors about the project. She told councilors that the HFH affiliate in Española is 14 years old and has done repairs on 22 homes, as well as the construction of six homes.


“We have 300 volunteers and the majority of them live in Los Alamos,” she said. She also said that whenever she goes to various hardware stores in Los Alamos, she gets inquiries from employees wanting to know how they can own a home in Los Alamos County. “The affiliate can’t afford a home in Los Alamos,” she said.


Stan Primak, a local contractor who works on HFH homes, was also present and told councilors that his motive was to tap into the human resource in Los Alamos and get volunteers to work on HFH projects.


“We’re trying to expand our horizons and gain more volunteers,” he said.


Chris Ortega, who also volunteers for HFH and is the former Los Alamos County Utilities Manager, shared some concerns about the property at 38th and Diamond.


He said there have been some utilities issues with Comcast and Qwest, as well as some power line issues.


“We’re hoping there’s some way we can work it out. It won’t be cheap,” he said of the utilities problems. He said the organization received a preliminary estimate of $50,000 to move a utility box.


Following the presentation by HFH, Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer said that he’s in favor of donating the land at 38th and Diamond. “Habitat work is well known,” Wismer said. “It’s in our best interest to have an affordable housing plan.”


Councilor Vincent Chiravalle concurred with Wismer and said that there’s no greater gift to give a family than a home.


“I’m inclined to support donating this to you at the proper time,” he told HFH staff.


Not everyone on council agreed with the conveyance, however.


Councilor Nona Bowman made clear her concern about the parcel of land and the noise factor.


“The lot will be small, there are utility problems there. Have you explored another lot?” she asked HFH staff. “It’s a very noisy location and there’s hardly any yard. Just because you’re poor, you don’t have to have a house in a location that’s noisy,” she continued. She also said that if county staff could find a better location, she’d be happy.


Primak said that HFH would be open to another parcel if the county would investigate the possibilities.


However, Maestas Rios seemed reluctant to consider another parcel and said that they realize the lot is small, but they’ll have an idea of what size of a home they can build on the lot, given it’s size. “We don’t believe in overcrowding,” she said.


Primak said that a typical HFH home is 850-1,050 square-feet.  


“We’d love to look at other potentials,” he commented. “Many people live in New York City with highway, byways and traffic running near their homes,” he pointed out, in an effort to address Bowman’s concerns.


Council Chair Michael Wheeler told Maestas Rios, Primak and Ortega that he concurs with Bowman’s concerns.


“I would hope this lot would work for you,” he commented. However, he also said that if the cost for utilities exceeds what HFH can cover, then he would like for county and HFH staff to look at other options.


“I encourage Tony to look at other parcels,” Wheeler commented.


HFH, a nonprofit, ecumenical housing organization, was founded in 1994 and serves the Española Valley and Los Alamos County.


Volunteers provide most of the labor and individual and corporate donors provide money and materials to renovate and built Habitat houses. Partner families invest approximately 500 hours of labor, also known as sweat equity, into building and renovating their homes and the homes of others.