Carlsbad’s housing crunch has widespread impacts

November 16, 2013 • State News

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — It took five months for John Thurston to find his current job.

The recent Eastern University graduate said he wanted to find a job closer to the geology field he studied in college.

Lucky for him, Morco Geological Services in Carlsbad answered his request.

“My boss told me ‘you’re hired,'” he said. “Then he said ‘Now start looking for a place.'”

Thurston, like so many out-of-state residents, quickly found out just what his supervisor meant. For a month, Thurston spent all his time trying to find somewhere to call home here in the city. And for that month, he called the Stagecoach Motel home, a place that didn’t feature many home-like qualities.

“It sucked,” he said. “Unfortunately, the only room they had available was a smoking room,” he added. “I felt like I was stuck there because it was really hard to find a place.”

Thurston is one of many people in the area suffering from a housing shortage. It is not uncommon to find oilfield and commercial trucks lined up at hotels along Canal Street at night. It’s a sight that has become more evident as time goes by.

“The population is growing so fast that housing has not caught up,” he said. “People are kind of desperate.”

A native of Spokane, Wash., Thurston said he came to Carlsbad in September and found out how tough it was to find an affordable place to live.

“The rest of cost of living is so normal but rent is so much more,” he said.

Although his company paid for his stay at the motel, he said he attempted to find places in the city to stay for [auth] reasonable prices. He said he filed apartment applications around the city, and he constantly watched a Facebook group advertising places for rent.

He said his stay at the motel was an experience he’d rather not repeat.

“The cleaning ladies were nice,” he said. “That was about it.”

He finally found his current duplex a month after starting his job. He said his rent of $650 is reasonable, and he’s grateful his company helped pay his hotel fees at the Stagecoach.

“It’s a good company,” he said. “It’s a good place. It’s good money.”

Like Thurston, the city has taken notice of the current housing situation.

Carlsbad’s city council recently voted in October to update the city’s existing temporary housing ordinance to meet the current population demand.

City Administrator Steve McCutcheon said the existing market in the city is insufficient to match the needs of the current workforce.

“The mayor tasked us to look at this issue,” he said. “What drove his concern was that we have a lot of people out here to work but they don’t have anywhere to stay.”

The city already allows individuals and developers to apply for temporary housing permits with certain guidelines, he said. However, the updated ordinance offers opportunities to attract developers wishing to set up temporary houses units such as mobile home parks and mobile camps, similar to other thriving oil-and-gas-based communities in North Dakota and Midland, Texas.

The ordinance helps “ensure that temporary residents are living in a safe, secure and sanitary environment,” the agenda report reads.

According to the report, the regional economy is expected to continue to grow for five to seven years.

Some guidelines requires properties are connected to the city’s water and sewer or be completely self-contained, have a minimum 4-foot tall perimeter fence, and be accessible for emergency purposes.

The permit is good for three years and can be renewable in two 1-year spans, McCutcheon said. The permit cannot be renewed after the fifth year, he added.

“Most of the temporary housing units just don’t lend themselves to permanent stability,” he said.

McCutcheon said the city has avenues to ensure temporary properties are kept up to code.

Since the ordinance update, McCutcheon said the city has received interest from several developers looking to set up shop in the city.

“Carlsbad is open for business,” he said.

“Although this may not be a long-term solution, it is definitely an immediate solution,” he added.

Over the past couple of days, John Waters and Jeff Campbell of the Carlsbad Department of Development have been at work trying to lure several retail chains to Carlsbad at International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual conference in Dallas, Texas.

Waters, executive director for the CDOD, said Carlsbad’s numbers are looking good to many investors. Campbell, director of marketing for the CDOD, said Carlsbad’s $53,000 median income number posts as the second highest numbers in the state the last four years.

“The revenue stream is high here,” Waters said. “People are making good money here.”

However, Waters acknowledges that the tight housing market in the city makes it harder to keep revenue within the city limits. Linger effects of the national housing crash of 2008 don’t help, he said.

The problem, he says, lies in convincing developers’ financiers that Carlsbad has a legitimate market.

“They think that if things are bad there then things are bad everywhere,” he said. “They lost a lot of money in 2008. The developers are interested but their banks need a little bit more convincing. They are really hesitant when they invest.”

The key, Waters says, is providing more rental properties in the city. Waters said his organization has trying to lure more rental properties and hotels into the area.

There are a few new apartment complexes that Waters said has helped. But it’s not enough, he said.

The shortage of rental units has affected other local industries like tourism and retail, which rely on hotel tourists to spend as much time in Carlsbad as they can.

He said the lack of available hotel rooms means tourists often decide to spend their dollars in nearby cities.

“It does abruptly affect the tourism industry,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

He said that the housing ordinance is a positive step in the right direction for the city.

“The city council recognizes that we have to put people into places to stay,” he said.

Waters, who said his office gets about one call each day from potential developers, said a lot of developers are giving Carlsbad a thought. He said two of the largest apartment complexes, Avalon and Copperstone, are about to break ground on the second phase of their developments.

“We are the real deal here in Carlsbad,” he said. “We are just at the start of our boom. We know we can fill apartments.”

“There’s two types of towns,” he added. “There are towns that are growing. There are towns that are dying. I’m thankful that I’m in a town that is growing”

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