Area housing authority may expand

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Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez spoke to the Socorro County Commission about expanding El Camino Real Housing Authority’s area during the commission’s regular meeting April 23. Following her presentation, the commission directed county staff to write a resolution to expand the housing authority.

Chavez-Lopez, director of El Camino Real HA and Socorro city commissioner, said El Camino Real HA was recently approached by the public housing authority in Torrance County, which wants to join up with El Camino Real. She said at one time Torrance County’s PHA was planning to merge with El Camino Real, but they backed out at the last minute.

“They’ve come back and said that they’d like to join us,” Chavez-Lopez said.

El Camino Real HA currently serves Socorro and Valencia counties.

Chavez-Lopez said El Camino Real HA has talked to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about the matter, and found there is money available that is not being used since there are not enough clients in Torrance County. She said the Torrance County PHA currently has about $100,000 available to pay clients’ rents, plus about 47 Section 8 vouchers they are not able to use.

“And they have a very limited waiting list,” Chavez-Lopez said. “It’s really almost zero.”

Chavez-Lopez said Socorro County has about 150 people on the waiting list for low-income housing assistance, and another 250 are waiting in Valencia County.

Chavez-Lopez said Torrance County only gets about $50,000 in administrative fees and has a full-time employee. She said El Camino Real HA has one staff member who goes to Valencia County once a week. She said once the housing authorities combine, perhaps the person in Torrance County could spend three days a week in Torrance County and two days a week in Valencia County so that Socorro PHA staff wouldn’t have to travel.

Chavez-Lopez said El Camino Real HA currently has about 440 vouchers for Section 8 in its portfolio, and about 52 Shelter Plus Care cases. Torrance County’s PHA would add another 132 to El Camino Real’s portfolio.

“So right off the bat we would be able to house at least 47 people between Socorro and Valencia counties,” Chavez-Lopez said.

Section 8 refers to a section of the Housing Act of 1937 that authorizes payment of housing assistance to help low-income people rent or buy homes, according to HUD’s website. Shelter Plus Care is a HUD program to provide long-term housing and supportive services for homeless people with disabilities.

Lencho Vega, El Camino Real HA board member, said HUD has informed the housing authority that its clients would benefit if El Camino Real HA can expand to cover a larger area.

“The bigger we are, the more power we have with HUD,” he said.

County manager Delilah Walsh said about two years ago, Socorro and Valencia counties merged their PHAs to form El Camino Real HA. She said HUD is requiring more regionalization to better utilize its funds.

“That’s happening with all our federal grants,” Walsh said. “We’re seeing where regionalization is preferred over local service.”

Walsh said Socorro County has four members on El Camino Real HA’s board and Valencia County has one. If Torrance County’s PHA is added, Torrance County will have one representative on the board and Socorro County will have three.

“And Valencia still hasn’t appointed anybody, so our four pretty much take care of everything,” Walsh said.

Chavez-Lopez said El Camino Real HA is working on a grant to bring in an assisted living facility, which she said is really needed in Socorro County. She added El Camino Real is also applying for a grant to support housing for disabled people. She said their chance of getting those grants will increase if Torrance County PHA joins El Camino Real to make it more regional.

Chavez-Lopez noted El Camino Real HA’s home office is still based in Socorro. She said the organization has a website, https://sites.google.com/site/elcaminorealhousing, where application forms can be downloaded. She noted the organization works with landlords and clients, and emails a lot of paperwork to save postage costs.

Chavez-Lopez said HUD reduced El Camino Real’s administration fee, plus the housing authority is out of money in its reserves. Torrance County PHA still has $100,000 in reserves that it can’t use, and Chavez-Lopez doesn’t want to see that money leave New Mexico.

“Once HUD recaptures that (money), there’s no guarantee that it’s going to stay in New Mexico,” she said.

Chavez-Lopez said Socorro County gets $55 per family for administrative fees, but Torrance and Valencia counties get $77 per family because those counties are considered urban areas.

Walsh said Chavez-Lopez’s presentation to the commission was informational, and the commission would have to approve a resolution to expand El Camino Real HA.

Chavez-Lopez said she will make sure the Torrance County PHA is in good standing financially. She plans to review their financial statements from the last 12 months to make certain merging with them will not burden El Camino Real HA.

Commissioners directed staff to prepare the resolution to expand El Camino Real HA for their next regular meeting, which is Tuesday at 10 a.m.