Thumbs up for housing rehab

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By Jennifer Garcia

The Community Development Department had the right answers this time. Returning to the County Council after doing a little more work on their plan for a Housing Rehabilitation Pilot Program, the CDD got a green light to proceed. Council passed the motion Tuesday night with a 4-2 vote.

Councilors Robert Gibson and Fran Berting voted against the proposal, saying they liked the program but not the timing. Councilor Jim West was absent.

The motion was originally presented to council at a meeting June 24, at which time the CDD suggested the county administrator be authorized to proceed with the multifaceted pilot housing program and that staff report back to council on the status of the program after one year.

The proposal was designed to improve the inventory of affordable homes and develope greater economic diversity in the community.

During the June 24 meeting, council voiced their support of the program but questioned whether existing staff resources could carry the program out without diverting staff time from other activities such as revitalization projects in White Rock.

In response to councilor’s questions, the CDD proposed a one-year set-up period during which the organization would prepare program documents and procedures, secure necessary approvals from the New Mexico Housing Finance Agency, investigate other possible funding sources, publicize the program, contact local banks wanting to be involved in the operation, and recruit and hire a part-time housing specialist to assist owners with improvement write-ups, applications and inspections.

According to the proposal, the one-year set-up period would be followed by a two-year pilot period of operation. At the end of each year, staff would report back to council on the program’s progress.

At the end of three years, council would decide on the program’s level of funding, or whether to continue with the program at all. The council has already approved $250,000 for two years to fund a revolving loan program.

Rick Bohn, Community Development Director, and Steven Brugger, Housing Programs Manager, were back in Council Chambers Tuesday evening to address staffing concerns and present program resources to council.

During the meeting, Councilor Nona Bowman voiced her concern over staffing resources by saying that she hopes that there would be someone else to delegate work to if the CDD’s staff becomes overloaded.

Bohn responded by saying, “We’re not concerned about administration. It’s up to me and Steve to solve. We have lots of support staff and great cooperation from Matt Dickens (Utilities Department Water and Conservation Officer). Applications in planning and building have slowed down, and I’m confident we have the personnel, but we'll keep a sharp eye on this.”

According to their proposal, Brugger would work 12 hours per week for the full three years, doing general program management.

He would also spend 12 hours per week on White Rock revitalization projects; 10 hours per week on the Los Alamos Housing Partnership; five hours per week on other housing development initiatives such as A-19; and one hour per week on non-program related staff supervision.

Matt Helmer, CDD senior planner, would devote 15 hours per week the first year, with less time thereafter, to procuring a housing specialist, preparing program documents, and publicity and outreach.

As part of his other commitments, Helmer would spend 20 hours per week doing CDD planning applications, and five hours per week assisting on other planning project initiatives.

Anita Barela, CDD senior office specialist, and Adrienne Lovato, CDD office specialist, would devote five hours per week, for three years, to administrative assistance and accounting services.

Joe Dudziak, CDD building inspector, would work two hours per week, for three years, doing general supervision related to the program, in addition to trouble-shooting and reporting.

As part of his other commitments, he would devote 15 hours per week to general CDD program and staff supervision; 10 hours per week to ordinance drafting and comprehensive plan; and 10 hours per week to special county projects.

Matt Dickens, utilities department water and conservation officer, would have no new weekly hours. However, Dickens is currently scheduled to spend approximately 30 percent of his time over the next three years on activities that can directly benefit the proposed housing rehabilitation program, such as energy audits, publicity and outreach for energy conservation programs and acquisition of home improvement energy conservation grants.

In addition, Judith Schlosser, affordable housing consultant, would draft the MFA affordable housing plan and set up key program documents for one year. During years two and three, a housing rehabilitation specialist would be brought in.

In an effort to help homeowners select the best contractors for the job, the CDD plans to provide a list of reputable contractors, so they don’t have to search for quality workers on their own.

Councilor Nona Bowman and Council Chair James Hall asked Brugger and Bohn how they would determine which contractors got on the list. They explained it would be very fair criteria based on licensure.

They'd ask for data, references and certifications. They also would make sure that all information is published and that they receive feedback from customers.

According to Bohn, the Housing Rehabilitation Pilot Program would be geared towards older, smaller homes in need of repairs. The first project should be completed in approximately 18 months.