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Commissioners approve EDC housing fund

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Lisa Dunlap Photo Five Chaves County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to provide $25,000 as seed money for a housing incentive loan program to be run by the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. From left are Robert Corn, Dara Dana and T. Calder Ezzell.

[Note: This post has been updated to correct the estimated cost of new housing.]

The need to develop affordable housing in the area has led to additional funding for the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. for the current fiscal year.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday to approve $25,000 for the Incentive for Housing Project, a revolving “gap” financing fund to encourage developers to build affordable housing in the area.

“We have a housing challenge here in Chaves County, and not just in Chaves County, but in Eddy County and Lea County as well, because a lot of the workers in the oil field are driving due to housing shortages,” said Michael Espiritu, president of the local economic development group.

Espiritu said that a December housing summit held in conjunction with the city of Roswell highlighted the the need for lower-cost housing as part of the effort to boost jobs and grow businesses, so he and other economic developers in Artesia, Hobbs and Carlsbad have been meeting to come up with ideas on how to attract developers here.

One of the results of that has been discussions with a modular home builder in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. Espiritu said the company has expressed interest in building three-bedroom modular homes in the county using prefabricated materials. They would cost $150,000 to $180,000, he estimated.

But, he said, the money isn’t promised to any one company or individual.

“It could be this developer, or it could be another developer,” Espiritu said.

He said developers will repay the loan once they sell or rent the housing units to replenish the revolving loan fund. He added that the EDC will establish liens or other mechanisms to ensure repayment.

The funding for the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. is in addition to the $50,000 previously provided for the current 2019-20 fiscal year. Although the group had asked for $75,000 for the year from the county, it was initially given only $25,000 at the start of the fiscal year in July 2019. Another $25,000 was provided in early 2020, and EDC representatives were told additional money could become available for specific economic development efforts. For fiscal year 2021, the group is budgeted to receive $150,000 from the county.

Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell voiced his support for the loan program.

“When we first got this request, I did not like it a bit,” Ezzell said, “but after my last meeting with Mike, I am 100% on board with this. We are not going to go out and buy somebody a lot. This is seed money for a program that will always be there. This is exactly what we asked the Economic Development Corp. last year to do.”

The West Texas oil boom that began in 2017 and lasted until the sharp decline at the end of 2019 led to a severe housing crisis in southeastern New Mexico and resulted in city and county planning and zoning officials making regulations for new workforce camps and tiny homes developments, as rental units and even hotels began to fill to capacity.

But even before the Permian Basin oil boom, the need for quality housing at an affordable price was a recognized need. A report commissioned by the city of Roswell in 2015 noted that a large portion of housing in the city was over 50 years old and, especially in certain areas of the city, was deteriorating. It also found that many homeowners (21.9%) and renters (47.5%) are considered “cost burdened,” which means their rent and utilities represents 30% or more of their household income.

A voicemail and email to the potential developer was not returned by press time.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.