Group files petition on affordable housing plan

Liliana Castillo

A Clovis citizens group is seeking to put another ordinance to Clovis voters.

The High Plains Patriots on Tuesday filed a petition regarding the commission’s passage of an affordable housing plan last week.

City Clerk LeighAnn Melancon said the petition was submitted and certified Tuesday morning.

According to the city charter, a referendum election can be forced if petitions are filed, within 30 days of an ordinance’s adoption, with signatures of registered Clovis voters living inside the city limits exceeding 20 percent of ballots cast in the most recent municipal election.

For this petition, that’s 456 signatures by June 6 — the first business day following the 30-day deadline.

The petition states, “The undersigned registered voters of the City of Clovis ask that a special election be conducted on the adoption or rejection of Ordinance 1957-2011, an ordinance establishing an affordable housing program pursuant to the affordable housing act; defining terms; establishing application requirements and review criteria; and establishing procedures to administer an affordable housing plan.”

The ordinance allows an exception to the state’s anti-donation clause for the purpose of affordable housing projects. The clause states that municipalities cannot “directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit, or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association, or public or private corporation.”

The commission approved the plan Thursday on a 6-1 vote. Commissioner Randy Crowder, who cast the dissenting vote, argued the plan creates an uneven playing field for builders and would become leverage for private builders to extract taxpayer-funded benefits they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

Tim Ashley, the Patriots’ secretary, echoed those sentiments, and said the plan was “redistribution of wealth” in the most concise terms.

“We oppose it on the basis that it allows city government to give taxpayer dollars to favored private investors,” Ashley said.

Mayor Gayla Brumfield believes the group is “scared of progress” and that the commission is tackling blight and a need for housing in an efficient manner.

“I think it’s unbelievable,” Brumfield said. “If people have other ideas, that’s one thing. But to be an obstructionist, that’s totally separate. The affordable housing plan is a tool communities use, and they’ve used it for years.”

The Patriots have already forced one election, filing a petition in February after the commission approved a .25 percent gross receipts tax increase to pay for the city’s financial share of the Ute Water Project. The petition was turned in with adequate signatures in March, the city scheduled a special election for May 3, and Clovis voters upheld the commission’s decision May 3 by a 1,265-1,045 margin.

Ashley said whether voters back a petition, and a possible referendum election, depends on how informed they are.

“If they really understand what the affordable housing plan is,” Ashley said, “I don’t think they’ll be in favor of it.”

A noted project of the affordable housing plan is the renovation of Hotel Clovis, which the city purchased in 2004 and adopted a “rebuild or demolish by 2012” plan.

Tierra Realty of Taos wants to rebuild the hotel and an adjacent building into 59 affordable housing units. It was the only developer to enter a bid.

“We’re getting some things done,” Brumfield said. “This city commission is moving things forward. And we’re doing it in the realms of efficiency. We’re either going to work with this developer or we have to tear it down.”

When the economic downturn hit, the city agreed to offer a loan of up to $1.4 million to keep the project afloat.

Crowder pointed to a commitment letter that said upon creation of an affordable housing plan, that loan would be converted to 50 percent grant and 50 percent non-recourse loan. He said the non-recourse element meant the city couldn’t go after Stephen Crozier of Tierra Realty for non-payment, and loan payments could also be deferred indefinitely provided the city has cash reserves.

Crowder and the Patriots believe the commitment letter means the city is essentially handing a private developer a $1.4 million check.

City commissioners, who voted for the plan on a 6-1 vote during their regular meeting last Thursday, are already handing out flyers from a group called “Clovis People for Progress,” asking citizens not sign the petition.

The flyers say the housing program won’t increase taxes, won’t prevent local developers from building homes and does not mean the city will begin building homes.

It also notes the $1.4 million loan is a worst-case scenario for a $12.8 million project with $9 million in private monies already invested that would bring new families into the downtown area. Demolishing Hotel Clovis, meanwhile, would be a $2 million expense, and a special election would cost the city more than $17,000.

Ashley said the group questions the demolition costs, and notes the plan’s effects would be permanent.

“Our opposition is deeper, and goes beyond the Hotel Clovis,” Ashley said. “With that ordinance in place, the dollars don’t stop there. This can continue on and taxpayer dollars can be flying out the door, so to speak, to whoever happens to be the chosen one. We think this is setting a bad precedent.”

Commissioners in favor of the plan argued Thursday that every affordable housing plan application would require both commission and state Mortgage Finance Authority approval.