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Housing crisis changing minds about affordable housing

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Posted at 4:39 PM, Jul 08, 2022

RUIDOSO, NM — There’s a lot to love about the sleepy mountain town of Ruidoso, New Mexico, but life the last few years have been anything but simple for the service industry.

"After the pandemic hit, I mean, It was like, where did everybody go," said Chon Caswell, the general manager of two restaurants in town.

"Everything's short-term rentals, Airbnb. It's tough living for the backbone of this economy," he added.

"Just like everywhere in the United States, we're severely handicapped when it comes to workforce and one of the biggest contributing factors to that is housing," said Mayor Lynn Crawford.

It’s a similar story in tourism-driven places across the nation, but further hardship this town is facing may be able to change mindsets that were once against the idea of affordable housing.

In April, a wildfire wiped out around 200 homes in an area of town that primarily housed folks who were part of the local workforce. It's kicked off a scramble for affordable housing that reached a new need to re-evaluate zoning laws to allow more people to live on less land.

"The community's always been 100% for it until you pick a spot and then it's, well not, you can't do this. We don't want you to do that," said Crawford.

Changing neighbors’ minds about affordable housing is one of the biggest hurdles to its creation.

A 2019 Redfin study showed that home buyers and sellers are nearly twice as likely to oppose housing density in their neighborhoods than they are to support it and more than half support zoning policies that limit density while 27 percent support it.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition guesses that the country is short 7 million rental homes for low-income renters. That’s about 1 in 4 of all rental households nationwide.

"A lot of it is the narrative that's been put out the, that the people that live there are being brought in from outside the community, they're the dregs of our community," he said.

The data, though, disproves that stigma. The National Low Income Housing Coalition says building 100 affordable housing units generates $11.7 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and 161 local jobs in the first year alone.

Mayor Crawfoird says Ruidoso is beginning to see the necessity as well as the benefits of having affordable housing.

"What this fire has done and the devastation is put faces. These are some of our firemen that have lost their homes. These are people that work at the hospital. These are people that work at our restaurants, our grocery stores that stock your shelves. Those are the people that have been affected," said Crawford.

The village is working on several solutions including an enterprise fund for housing, tax credits and building modular homes. Crawford says this is possible because the state and local governments, as well as the community, are working together.

"We've been working on these plans constantly, but now some of the doors are opening and we're running through those and those people are working with us and we do appreciate everything," he said.

For business folks like Caswell, he hopes more communities change their perspective on affordable housing.

"Hopefully we can get a change of hearts and minds," he said.