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Area housing group expands, plans Hobbs rehab project

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Eastern Regional Housing Authority takes over Tucumcari housing entity

The regional housing authority based in Roswell has had an active year that has included taking over a municipal housing authority in Quay County and beginning the work that will allow a private interest to rehabilitate a large Lea County public housing community.

The Eastern Regional Housing Authority held its annual meeting and reviewed its 2021 annual plan this week.

Executive Director Chris Herbert said in an interview that the local demand for housing units and housing vouchers continues to far exceed the available supply, with long waiting lists. But he also described a year in which the regional group has taken several actions intended to benefit low-income individuals and families.

ERHA is one of three remaining state-authorized housing authorities. It operates in 12 counties: Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Eddy, Guadalupe, Harding, Lea, Lincoln, Otero, Quay, Roosevelt and Union. The staff oversees the federal Section 8 housing voucher program, which helps eligible residents pay for housing. At the current time, the Eastern Regional Housing Authority has about 2,088 vouchers issued, according to its 2021 annual plan.

The regional authority also owns and manages public housing communities with a total of 402 units in Roswell, Capitan, Carrizozo, Artesia, Vaughn, Lovington, Tucumcari and Eunice. The Roswell community is Sandstone Manor Apartments on Stacy Drive in the southwest portion of the city.

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In recent years, the Eastern Regional Housing Authority has taken over several municipal housing authorities.

Most recently, Herbert said, it took over management of the Tucumcari Municipal Housing Authority in April 2020, with the deal completed in January. That authority has a public housing community of 80 units and has issued about 80 housing subsidies.

“There had been a lot of staff turnover and the city opted to transfer that,” he said. “It was difficult for them to manage and keep the kind of staff necessary.”

Small housing authorities, he said, have the same reporting requirements as larger housing authorities, which is why so many smaller groups have folded in the past decade.

The authority is also about halfway through a 90-day management agreement with a housing group in Tahoka, Texas, south of Lubbock. Herbert said that arrangement is meant to provide oversight and support only until staff is hired and trained to run the authority independently.

Another major undertaking is the start of the process to work with a private developer on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, also characterized as a 4% tax credit. The program allows private interests to work in conjunction with public housing authorities to construct or purchase and rehabilitate affordable housing. In this case, a private group will do a complete exterior and interior renovation of the 152-unit Woodleaf Apartments in Hobbs, investing about $18 million to $19 million.

“It is coming to the end of its service life with us. It is having a lot of maintenance issues,” he said. “It is just becoming very cumbersome in terms of maintenance costs.”

A similar project occurred with the Roselawn Apartments in Artesia a few years ago, he said.

“Most public housing properties will be transitioned in the next 5 to 10 years to tax credit projects,” he said. “Basically we will use investors’ capital to do renovations and that lessens the money needed from the federal government to maintain those properties.”

He said the Rental Assistance Demonstration projects to occur in the future will still have subsidies attached to them, so that residents will not experience a difference.

Herbert explained that the intention of the federal public housing program is to transition all properties to private ownership within five to 10 years, with the tax credit program as a major vehicle for that process.

The next planned release of housing vouchers in Chaves County is likely to occur in about eight months, Herbert said.

He explained that the vouchers to be available then are those that become available as county residents either leave the area or experience improved work or income situations, allowing them to pay for housing without assistance.

He said that sometimes the federal government will release additional funding for housing subsidies, but he cannot predict if or when that might happen or how much more funding would become available.

Another program that the group oversees is the federal Veterans Assistance Supportive Housing program, known as VASH.

The Eastern Regional Housing Authority cooperates with nearby Veteran’s Administration offices to help homeless veterans and their families obtain housing as well as whatever mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment or medical care they need.

“We have been able to use those vouchers and, in the past year, they provided us a few more,” he said. “We hope to expand that even more.”

He said about eight people in Chaves and Eddy counties are being assisted now through that program and that the ERHA is able to help other veterans in need.

During the COVID-19 concerns and public health restrictions, the offices at 106 E. Reed St. are closed. The public can reach the ERHA staff by calling 575-622-0881.

Another effort that Herbert plans to pursue this year is to work with the Governor’s Office regarding legislation in 2022 that would change the oversight of regional housing authorities.

On April 9, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed House Bill 196 that passed both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature in March.

The bill would have removed a lot of the oversight now done by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, which Herbert characterized as redundant and fairly minimal now. He said the state oversight made sense in 2006 and 2007 when some authorities did not have federal oversight but did have the ability to issue bonds. Now all state agencies are overseen by federal Housing and Urban Development officials. Herbert said the Mortgage Finance Authority agreed to release its oversight responsibilities.

However, Grisham wrote in her veto explanation that she thought the Mortgage Finance Authority “is in the best position to monitor regional housing authorities.”

The bill proposed that the authorities would still have boards of commissioners appointed by the governor and would still submit their financial statements each year to the state auditor and other state officials. They also would continue to comply with federal housing laws.

“Housing authorities are state agencies. We were created by state statutes,” Herbert said, “but we operate with federal programs and have federal oversight.”

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.