Albuquerque's recent housing boom has made the dream of owning a home or even moving into a desirable neighborhood a fantasy for many residents in the city. The pandemic and wealthy out-of-state buyers have astronomically increased the price of homes and rent. Other major metropolitan areas have seen many longtime residents pushed out of neighborhoods, especially around Downtown areas, as prices continue to rise.
Barelas, traditionally a predominately Hispanic neighborhood just south of Downtown, is one such neighborhood that has the potential to be a casualty of the shifting housing market. According to City-Data, a social network focused on collecting data on U.S. metropolitan areas, Barelas' average household income as of 2019 was just over $32,000—compared to $55,000 for Albuquerque overall. The neighborhood is also located near already established attractions such as the Rail Yards, the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the ABQ Biopark. Several significant projects as part of the city's revitalization effort for Downtown Albuquerque are also set to take place near Barelas. The one-mile Rail Trail will connect the Convention Center and the Edo Neighborhood to the Rail Yards. Also, several prospective sites for a new multi-use stadium, which will be New Mexico United's new home, are located near the neighborhood. With all these new amenities in and around Barelas, a neighborhood that has seen decades of disinvestment, what will happen to long-standing residents in this neighborhood?
According to Homewise, a nonprofit organization that focuses on home improvement and rehabilitation for moderate-income residents, Barelas has benefited from the recent housing boom and the city's rehabilitation projects. "The prices have increased, but not as much as the rest of Albuquerque. It has been a more steady, healthy increase in prices and is more affordable than most parts of Albuquerque. But again, people don't realize that an increase in values is raising everyone's personal financial wealth; whereas if you have a lot of vacant problematic homes on a block, people get stripped of their equity and investment in a home because those homes bring down the value of everyone's home in the neighborhood," Senior Director of Policy and Community Engagement Elena Gonzales said.
Albuquerque's red hot real estate market has also led to a dramatic increase in rent, a trend that has been observed throughout the state. Rising rent, coupled with stagnant wages, has left many in Albuquerque with limited options. Barelas' housing market, although relatively unaffected by the sudden spike in prices, still has seen real estate values increase. According to Gonzales, "The real estate market has become more stable and healthy for Barelas in the recent years. It has been a disinvested area for decades, and I can see more pride of ownership, vacant homes being rehabilitated (some by Homewise), and sell to people in the neighborhood. The values have also increased at a healthy rate (not as fast as in other areas), which means owners have more financial wealth and equity (even the families who have owned for decades in the neighborhood)." Organizations like Homewise have programs specifically designed to protect at-risk neighborhoods in traditionally neglected neighborhoods.
"We also have a comprehensive anti-displacement strategy in Barelas where we are trying to increase the homeownership rate of residents that currently rent there, along with helping eligible households (over 62 or disabled under a certain income) apply with the County Assessor to have their property taxes 'frozen' and thirdly, offering home improvement deferred (zero interest, no payments) loans to existing homeowners so they can make the necessary repairs to their homes to avoid displacement," Gonzales said.
Part of Homewise's mission is to assist in the process of transitioning from renting to homeownership. Renting is often more expensive than homeownership and is much more susceptible to market trends. "With low-interest rates, significant down-payment assistance, and our one-on-one financial coaching to help clients reduce their other debt, we have been able to help families get pre-approved for an amount that, in many cases, is sufficient enough for them to purchase a home. The City of Albuquerque has been a great partner, and we administer a homebuyer assistance program that an income-eligible family (below 80 percent of the Area Median Income) may qualify for up to $40,000 in assistance," Gonzales said.
Homewise has also taken a proactive approach in assisting longtime residents in finding sustainable and affordable housing. "We offer homebuyer education and counseling, along with affordable mortgage loans, down payment assistance, and real estate services. We also have an active Community Development Department that is actively engaged with commercial and residential redevelopment (an example is the B. Ruppe Drugstore)," Gonzales said.
Homewise has recently begun construction on 16 new townhomes on Second Ave. and Silver St. To learn more about programs and opportunities offered by Homewise, visit their website.
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