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Summit addresses housing concerns, mortgages

Fernando and Lilia Santana were uncertain about becoming homeowners.

The couple started off with what they described as a "tiny house" before they purchased their current home in Loving about 35 years ago.

"I never thought that we were going to have a house," Lilia Santana said.

"Me and him, we said 'Can we make it?' I said, 'Let's do it one day at a time, one year at a time. And we made it."

The couple said homeownership is challenging but advised that people should not buy a home outside of their financial budget.

"If you can afford a four-bedroom house, you can buy it," Fernando Santana said.

In response to growing demands for housing in Carlsbad and Eddy County, Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich hosted the Carlsbad Housing Summit Wednesday.

The summit included nine speakers who discussed the current housing developments and information on mortgages.

"We want to make sure we're doing what we can to ensure we have adequate residential facilities for everyone," said Eddie Rodriguez, Carlsbad City Council member and mayor pro tem. "Economic growth is a great thing, but resolving this issue is critical to protecting the quality of life in Carlsbad."

Rodriguez said the Blue Ribbon Commission was developed by the mayor's office to address "all needs in all areas," such as housing.

"We're working towards determining the difference in permanent and temporary employees, and the different kinds of housing that will be needed in addition to infrastructure needs," said Rodriguez, who is co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

In a video shown at the summit, Heinrich said, "We must all do our part to ensure all families in Carlsbad have an affordable place to call home."

Jeff Patterson, director of the city's Planning, Engineering and Regulation Department, said the high demand for housing resulted from growth in the oil and gas industry, and a subsequent influx of workers into Carlsbad.

He said various building developments, such as multi-family and single-family housing units, are ongoing or in the process of starting.

The city, he said, is also monitoring man camps that are developed around the city for temporary workers.

"We haven't seen this type of development in this town for some decades, but with the oil and gas industry, it really hit us. I think that the town and the developers that are involved are really responding," Patterson said.

In the meantime, the high demand for housing resulted in an increase in apartment and hotel rates, said Susan Crockett, chair of the Eddy County Board of County Commissioners.

The lack of housing, she said, also makes it difficult for employers to hire people.

Crockett said that many units are currently 90 to 100 percent occupied, and apartment rates reached about $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit in 2017.

"It (new housing) brings in more families and helps keep the wages earned by the workforce here in New Mexico and in Eddy County. It brings in gross receipts tax, which only helps us improve our roads and infrastructure and other needs for the county as well as the city," Crockett said.

"It provides other potential employees to staff the many open jobs in our community."

Crockett said the county applied for grant funding, aiming to have the county considered an "opportunity zone," potentially leading to tax advantages to attract capital investment into "economically distressed areas."

"I think that open dialogue discussions like this summit and the mayor's housing committee are the steps that we need in Eddy County to move forward with our housing needs as our county's industry tends to grow," she said.

State and regional representatives with the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, Southwestern Regional Housing and Community Development, Eastern Regional Housing Authority and New Mexico Manufactured Housing Association discussed options available for residents looking to finance a home.

"You don't want people to change a mortgage payment because you're setting them up to fail, and that's the worse thing you can do for a community is put people in homes and they can't afford it," said Suzie Nance, president of the New Mexico Mortgage Lenders Association.

Judy Mullins, of Artesia, said although there was important information provided for residents, she wished more people were present at the event.

Roughly 70 people, including vendors, attended the summit.

"I think a lot of what they talked about would have helped a lot of people," Mullins said.