A shanty town is loosely defined as an area of improvised buildings known as shanties or shacks of poor construction that lack adequate infrastructure including proper sanitation, safe water supply, electricity and street drainage and parking. Mayor Tim Keller wants enactment by the City Council of two major amendments to the zoning laws that will transform the city into a shanty town. The amendments will allow the construction of 750 square-foot “casitas” and “duplex” additions in the backyards of all 120,000 residential lots that have existing homes. The City Council has voted to allow 18 city-sanctioned Safe Outdoor Space tent encampments for the homeless to help with the “shanty town ambiance.”
The casita and duplex amendments are part of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ Plan. It is a “multifaceted initiative” where Keller has set the goal of adding 5,000 new housing units across the city by 2025 above and beyond what private industry normally creates each year. Keller has proclaimed the city is in a major “housing crisis” and the city immediately needs 13,000 to 28,000 more housing units.
The zoning code amendments would make both casitas and duplex additions “permissive uses” and not “conditional uses” as they are now and have always been historically. A “conditional use” requires an application process with the city Planning Department, notice to surrounding property owners and affected neighborhood associations and provides for appeal rights. A “permissive use” would give the Planning Department exclusive authority to issue permits for construction without notices and hearings and with no appeal process. Objecting property owners and neighborhood associations to the permissive casita and duplex uses would be relegated to filing lawsuits to enforce covenants and restrictions.
Reclassification zoning of all single-family lots to allow residential duplex development and casita development will encourage large private investors and real estate developers, including out-of-state corporate entities, to buy up distressed properties to lease and covert whole blocks into rental duplexes with substandard rental casitas. This will dramatically degrade the character of neighborhoods and the city as a whole.
To put the argument in perspective, an individual investor will be able to purchase single-family homes to rent, add a 750-square-foot two-family home addition and build a separate 750-square-foot free-standing casita. The result is a one-home rental being converted into three separate rental units. Such development will increase an area’s property values and property taxes. It will also decrease the availability of affordable homes and raise rental prices even higher. It will increase gentrification in the more historical areas of the city as generational residents will be squeezed out by the developers and increases in property taxes.
The housing shortage is related to economics, the development community’s inability to keep up with supply and demand and the public’s inability to purchase housing and qualify for long-term housing mortgage loans. There is also a shortage of rental properties resulting in dramatic increases in rents. Keller is using the short-term housing “crunch” to declare a “housing crisis” to shove his Housing Forward ABQ Plan down the throats of city residents and property owners. Keller is advocating transformative zoning changes to increase density by severely relaxing zoning restrictions to favor investors and the developers that will destroy entire neighborhoods.