Laguna Pueblo starts work on affordable housing project

Laguna Pueblo starts work on affordable housing project

Representatives from the Pueblo of Laguna council and Paraje break ground on the Laguna #3 development on Jan. 31. (Courtesy of Travois Design)

Construction is underway on an affordable housing project on the Laguna Pueblo. By summer or fall of 2024, 20 families should be able to move into townhomes at 4 Cypress Road within the larger K’awaika Center planned development.

The $15 million Laguna #3 housing development is the first project of this scale in about two decades, said Laguna Housing Development and Management Enterprise Board Chairman Francisco “Chico” Carr.

“As families continue to grow … there’s overcrowdedness in the homes,” Carr said. “People do want to stay within the pueblo and continue providing for the pueblo … we are moving forward with this project to provide some relief.”

According to Carr, the Laguna Pueblo has a need for between 950 and 1,000 homes. And there are already approximately 65 families on the waitlist to move into Laguna #3.

“The word’s been getting out,” Carr said. “It’s something that the families have been waiting for and hoping for.”

Among the three buildings in the project, there are 20 townhomes – 12 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units. Travois Design, an architecture firm and consultant that works exclusively with tribally designated housing entities, is designing the project.

Travois recently completed two housing developments with the nearby Acoma Pueblo. Besides being the board chairman at LHDME, Carr serves as a development manager for the Pueblo of Acoma Housing Authority, and connected with Travois throughout the two Acoma projects.

This is the LHDME’s first apartment complex. While the LHDME manages a portfolio of 96 affordable units, all of the previous projects have been single-family homes, Carr said.

The project is made up of townhomes with adjoining walls. Where a standard apartment building would “stick out like a sore thumb,” this design harks back to traditional Laguna pueblo architecture, with a “modern twist,” Carr said.

A rendering of the planned Laguna #3 affordable housing development, which includes 20 townhomes among three buildings. (Courtesy of Travois Design)

“Here in the Pueblo of Laguna, there’s six villages, but each of the village proper homes … has the adjoining walls,” Carr said. “Families live next door to each other, there was really no yard space. Everybody was there – you’re there with your neighbor, with your family.”

The development is located in the K’awaika Center, which the tribe has been redeveloping. The area includes a recently built senior center and health clinic. The Laguna #3 housing development will also include a 1,308-square-foot community center and playgrounds in view of all the housing units. The project is targeted to families with children, and is also designed to maximize energy efficiency.

“These are all low-income families,” said Travois Senior Project Manager Trent Rogers. “So a piece of this is not only just wanting to make sure that we are creating sustainable buildings, but also all of those energy efficiency design standards, they trickle down to the low-income tenants … their energy bills are lower and their overall rent burden will go down.”

The project was financed using a Low Income Housing Tax Credit from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. The credit, which LHDME received in May 2022, generated $7.8 million in investor equity from RBC Community Investments.

This is the third project that the LHDME has built with the tax credit – but it’s been almost two decades since the first two were built. Difficulties finding funding has stagnated new construction on the Laguna Pueblo, Carr said, until now.

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act provides some funding to the Laguna Pueblo each year for housing and infrastructure improvements. But each year, Carr said, the pueblo receives only $1.5 million, which also goes toward administrative costs and building rehabilitation.

“By the time you’re all said and done, you may be lucky to have maybe $600,000 that can be put toward new construction,” Carr said.

Some other funding sources, like the Indian Housing Community Development Block Grant, Carr said, are extremely competitive. So the LHDME contracted with Travois, which has experience applying for the housing tax credit, to put together the application last year.

“With the LIHTC program, specifically, I think it can seem daunting,” Rogers said, adding that the pueblo started working on its application in April 2021.

Even the LIHTC program can be competitive, Rogers said, with housing entities around the state – tribal and beyond – applying for funding with the mortgage authority.

“There’s always more projects than credits available,” Rogers said.

According to Rogers, construction costs for the project have increased since the initial estimation. But the pueblo stepped up to cover the difference, Rogers said, showing its commitment to affordable housing. “We need more housing, this is something that we’re going to prioritize,” Rogers said. “And the tribe really came to the table with much-needed funding to help fill in some of the gaps that arose just from increased construction costs.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited the start date of the LIHTC application. It has since been updated. 

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