Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

City lays out plan to turn hotels into apartments

Architect Mark Baczek looks at a board depicting the conversion of former hotel rooms into affordable apartments in other cities as Albuquerque City officials are considering the option. Photographed on Tuesday December 6, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/)

Copyright © 2022

City officials say they hope to have their first hotel conversion underway by the middle of 2023, part of a plan to turn such properties into housing for as many as 1,000 people by 2025.

In a public meeting that attracted about 100 people to the Albuquerque Convention Center Tuesday night, city representatives discussed their vision for bolstering the citywide housing stock by turning hotels and motels into permanent residential options for people with low and moderate incomes. They said they are exploring acquisition opportunities across the city, but have not yet made any purchases. The city has confirmed it is in discussions with at least one property located at 10330 Hotel Circle NE.

Lisa Huval, deputy director in the Family and Community Services Department, told the audience that inadequate supply is a key factor in the city’s current housing crisis and that Mayor Tim Keller’s recently announced “Housing Forward” plan aims to tackle the problem from various angles.

All told, the goal is to add 5,000 more housing units beyond what the ordinary market would create by 2025, and transforming hotels would account for part of that by creating what she called “basic, decent” places for people to live. Huval said the city estimates that rehabilitating hotel rooms into housing can be done at about one-third the cost of building a new unit from the ground up.

“We need new creative, innovative strategies, and we believe converting motels and hotels into housing is one of those creative strategies,” Huval said.

The city has about $20 million in federal funding and local bond money available currently for that purpose, according to a spokeswoman. That is expected to cover at least the first two.

The City Council helped set the stage for these conversions earlier this year with a zoning code update that reduces the kitchen requirements for such affordable housing conversions that receive city funding. Specifically, they could swap a microwave or hot plate for a standard oven or range. Right now, the exception applies only to those conversions using city money, but there is a proposal out now to expand it to all developers.

Huval on Tuesday tried to allay concerns that such a kitchen setup is insufficient, saying that the city brought a chef to the event to demonstrate how to prepare chicken noodle soup from scratch with only an induction hot plate.

“Folks immediately go to the microwave and picture someone living off Hot Pockets, but in fact it is possible to safely cook nutritious foods in these settings,” she said.

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Officials from multiple departments fielded attendees’ questions submitted in writing, though some frustrated audience members yelled out concerns about potential crime and blight.

“So, you’ll get rid of drug addicts and sex traffickers if you find them in these units?” one audience member asked directly.

Albuquerque Police Department Deputy Chief Josh Brown said officers would tackle crime as needed, though he at one point called it unfair to make generalizations about low-income renters.

“I don’t know what this (type of project) is going to look like yet. We’re supportive of it and, if there is anything that pops up criminally-wise, APD can step in,” he said.

Officials said any hotel conversions would have to meet the same city code as other apartment projects, with the exception of the kitchen standard, and that city-affiliated projects would also require an on-site social services provider at least 40 hours a week. They would allow pets and accept housing vouchers, city representatives said.

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