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Designed for affordability

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In first place is the new 71-unit Casitas de Colores project designed by Dekker/Perich/Sabatini as infill housing for Downtown Albuquerque. The developers are Romero Rose LCC and YES Housing Inc. The project will be integrated into the same city block as Elements, an existing for-sale townhome project at market rates, and Silver Gardens Apartments with its mixed-income rentals.

The second-place winner is a new mixed-use design concept for the classic 1960 Sundowner motel at 6101 Central NE, at the intersection of San Pedro NE. This old motel has the distinction of having been home to Bill Gates and Paul Allen when the two founded Microsoft. The architect is Garrett Smith Ltd., and the developer is NewLife Homes.

The third-place winner is Peachtree Canyon in Las Cruces by developer Thomas Development Group. The architect is Workshop8. This project will be new construction designed to create the ambience of a canyon and arroyo through natural material choices and shading devices on the urban fringe.

The two Albuquerque projects, both multifamily rental projects selected in an independently juried design competition, are expected to break ground near the end of this year or early in 2013. The projects’ high placement in the optional, independently juried design competition helped earn tax credit points that will take both Casitas de Colores and Sundowner from paper to reality.

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“It’s a competitive process to get the tax credits,” said Linda Bridge, director of housing development for MFA. “Participants can score points in 24 different categories, ranging from affordability to services provided. About six or seven projects are awarded the tax credits each year. And every year, there are far more applicants than funds available. The need for affordable rental housing in New Mexico far exceeds what we have. There are a lot of very worthy projects on the wait list.”

The city’s affordable-housing needs assessment lists a shortfall of about 8,000 affordable-housing rental units.

Casitas de Colores will be an affordable, green and family-themed component to Albuquerque’s Alvarado Transportation Center Metropolitan Redevelopment Plan, say developers. Close proximity to regional bus and train transportation reduces the need for automobiles, and as an infill site within the city’s urban core, enclosed courtyards will offer a community space where children can play and be seen from the units. Natural lighting, cross-ventilation, on-site laundry facilities and a community building are in the plans.

The Sundowner project, in the Heights along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, will be an adaptive use of a classic American roadside motel, said John Bloomfield, part of the NewLife Homes development team. It’s not this team’s first conversion of a classic Route 66 auto court; the group is also refurbishing the old Luna Lodge at 9119 Central NE through tax credits awarded previously by MFA, as well as through financial assistance from the City of Albuquerque and others.

The Sundowner, a mix of studio to three-bedroom apartments expected to house about 100 people, plans to transform the former motel’s large asphalt parking lot to provide a community area that will contain some offices offering services to tenants. Permission is being sought to name the entryway alleys after Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who once lived and worked in the 1960-built motel.

Created in 1993, NewLife Homes, the Sundowner’s developer, comprises seven New Mexico nonprofit corporations that own, manage and develop safe, affordable, quality houses with a focus on persons with mental illness, physical disabilities, the elderly and the homeless. Rentals are set by a sliding fee depending on income.

“Our focus is on the city’s most vulnerable,” Bloomfield said. “Life is very fickle – a lot of people fall through the cracks and there isn’t a level of community support for them. These are not people who feel they deserve entitlements, but regular people, who mostly through no fault of their own, find themselves in straits.”

The contest’s architectural renderings illustrate the importance of design, said MFA’s Leann Kemp, communications manager. For starters, attractive designs garner fewer objections from neighborhood residents and less resistance to the new buildings or remodels.

“Good design is everything,” Kemp said. “It enhances the livability of housing, makes it more attractive, and reduces energy costs for residents. But good design also means affordable housing blends in with other market-rate buildings in the community, which reduces the historic stigma of affordable housing.”

Since its inception in 1975, MFA has helped an estimated 82,000 families in New Mexico to find stable housing and has provided more than $5 billion in affordable housing grants and loans. In 2011, MFA funded more than $245 million in low-interest rate financing and grants, including $127 million in mortgages and down-payment assistance to approximately 1,000 first-time homebuyers throughout New Mexico.

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