Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Santa Fe Converts Route 66 Hotel to Affordable Housing / Public News Service

The conversion of a 60-year-old Santa Fe hotel should offer those seeking affordable housing, including the city’s homeless community, a new lease on life.

The Lamplighter Inn, on what was originally Route 66, will be remodeled into a mix of 58 studio and one-bedroom apartments. A broad coalition, including the housing consulting group Project Moxie, is part of the initiative. Matt Lynn, Moxie’s director of community engagement, said he expects the facility to open sometime in 2023.

“This is going to prevent people from falling into homelessness,” he said. “These are modestly sized units that are renting at a very affordable price compared to the market rate in Santa Fe. This gives them the stability of having a safe place to sleep at night.”

The Biden administration has made federal stimulus funds available for hotel conversion projects. Potential residents need to earn less than 80% of the Area Median Income, or about $41,000 a year, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rent for the Lamplighter housing units will initially range from $725 to $825 a month.

The hotel was purchased with the conversion in mind by a group that includes Anchorum St Vincent. Jerry Jones, Anchorum’s interim president and chief executive, said he believes the collaboration could be a great model for other communities.

“Because you have a service provider, you have the nonprofits, you have the for-profits, you have the governmental entities,” he said, “it’s a great template for us to hopefully address future inventory in a similar way.”

Lynn said hotel conversions are a cost-effective and timely way to address housing shortages, especially with current inflation and supply-chain issues.

“We’re not going to be opening up our doors tomorrow, but it’s going to move faster than if we had scraped the property and started fresh,” he said. “It’s a way to quickly get units on the market.”

The Lamplighter housing also is located next to Life Link, which offers services to break cycles of chronic homelessness, mental illness, trauma, exploitation and addiction. To that end, 25% of the units will be set aside for people who require supportive services to remain stably housed.

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Higher consumer costs and expired pandemic protections are putting more Minnesotans on the brink of losing their homes. Some areas are seeing higher foreclosure activity than others, renewing calls for those behind on their payments to seek help.

According to this month’s Census Household Pulse Survey data, 24% of Minnesota adults faced the likelihood of eviction or foreclosure, up from 18% earlier this spring.

Janelle Bennett, program coordinator for West Central Minnesota Communities Action in Grant County, said they are seeing more pre-foreclosure notices sent to individuals the office follows up with.

“The ones I have received so far have been definitely related to COVID, either losing their job or cutting back on hours and just losing that income,” Bennett explained.

While the job market has rebounded, she said disabilities from COVID prevent some from regaining their hours. Her area is not alone. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis recently reported nearly 10 rural Minnesota counties had foreclosure rates of at least 1%.

The Minnesota Homeownership Center said through its website, those behind can look over a network of nonprofits and community organizations with advisers who provide free counseling.

Julie Gugin, President of the Center, said it is not surprising to see the trends take hold as the pandemic lurches forward. She noted there are mounting health care costs for some people who had little or no paid time off, making it harder to be financially covered if they were forced to miss work.

“It is a waterfall effect that health crises, as we are experiencing with COVID, can have lasting impacts on people’s abilities to maintain their homes,” Gugin pointed out.

As for financial assistance, she noted larger counties can create their own aid programs because they get more federal relief to distribute, though it is not always the case for smaller regions.

Gugin added rural homeowners can turn to statewide initiatives, such as the Home-Help MN COVID Assistance Fund. The application deadlines on June 17. Those eligible can receive aid if their hardship is COVID-related, but officials warned what’s left likely will not meet the demand seen around the state.

Disclosure: Minnesota Homeownership Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Housing/Homelessness, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Data from Maine’s annual Point in Time homelessness survey has been released, showing 4,411 individuals were experiencing homelessness on Jan. 25 of this year, a sharp increase from the count the previous year.

Dan Brennan, director of the Maine State Housing Authority, acknowledged while there may have been an increase in people experiencing homelessness, the number also reflects a change in the formula for the count.

It includes those in transitional housing, as well as those housed in motels and hotels through the federally funded rent relief program.

He said the more accurate data collection becomes, the better Maine will be able to tackle homelessness.

“We want homelessness to be as rare as possible,” Brennan asserted. “We know that things are going to happen in life that cause people to lose their homes or to fall out of safe, stable housing. That’s going to happen. But the issue is how long does someone remain in that situation?”

Nearly half of households who were counted as experiencing homelessness have at least one child, and nearly 40% are Black, brown or Indigenous, while less than 10% of Maine’s overall population identifies as BIPOC.

Brennan added homelessness in Maine is largely concentrated in urban centers, such as Portland and Bangor.

“What we need to do is help support the communities that are around those areas and in more rural parts of Maine, so that people experiencing homelessness can at least stay in their own community,” Brennan urged.

He noted it is one reason why Maine Housing has partnered with an organization called Community Solutions, to improve data collection and collaboration. They are creating what they call regional hubs, each with a hub coordinator who can help people in the area connect with services.

“Right now, we’re in an environment where the availability of affordable housing units is very sparse,” Brennan emphasized. “That’s been a real challenge. But if we can get these hubs up and running and working and more robust than they historically have been, they will be a help to the homeless shelters that are in those particular areas.”

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Arkansas is declining most of the $146 million made available in a second round of Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government. Critics of the move predict the decision will hurt families still struggling due to the pandemic.

gov. Asa Hutchinson sent a letter to the US Department of Treasury asking to take only 39% of the funds for “housing stability” programs. Hutchinson cited a strong economy and job market as reasons for rejecting the funds.

But Joyce Jones – a volunteer with Arkansas Renters United – said rental assistance has been a lifeline for lower-income families.

“This pandemic put a lot of pressure on a lot of families,” said Jones. “A lot of families lost their jobs. Some people have recovered, in the sense of getting their jobs or getting a new job. These are minimum-wage jobs, and minimum wage does not pay the rent.”

Arkansas still has $6.7 million left in rental assistance, but the state has closed its emergency Rent Relief Program application portal and there are no plans to reopen it.

A spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Human Services said the state hopes to get approval to use these federal funds for job training, education and other services for families at risk of housing instability.

In the meantime, Little Rock’s rental prices have grown more than 16% since March 2020. Jones said with money remaining in the emergency fund, her organization would like to see the state reopen the Arkansas Rent Relief Program.

“Some of these people end up living in their cars,” said Jones. “And if we get these funds and keep distributing the funds to the people in need, then we’re averting some of that disaster.”

The state DHS says Arkansans can access other rental-assistance programs through the Emergency Solutions Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program – all of which are available through community action agencies.

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