East Central: What's Happening at the Sundowner?

CENTRAL & SAN PEDRO NE--Anyone who has driven down Central Ave. east of Nob Hill knows that something is changing in this part of town, and most of it is not good.  Maybe we need another set of arches for Route 66, one at San Mateo and the other at Wyoming Blvd.  Then above Central Ave., in big blue letters, the words “HARD TIMES” would remind us all of those who bear the brunt of these economic problems.  For this is their domain:  the sidewalks, alleys, the dark streets, and all the rest of a reality most of us never have to contemplate.

So it was with a bit of hope that I looked at the redo of the old, vacant Sundowner Motor Lodge near the corner of Central and San Pedro. It is now being advertised as the Sundowner Apartments.  They sure looked good, but what exactly is going on?

The property is being developed by a non-profit--NewLife Homes.  Well I confess, that name was new to me.  It turns out that this is their ninth project in Albuquerque, the most famous being the Luna Lodge which is way east on Central Ave.

Their website defines their clientele.  “We serve very low income persons, at or below 30%-50% of area median income. Prior to residing in NewLife Homes housing, the majority of our residents have been in crisis housing, emergency shelters, substance abuse treatment programs, or on the streets. All NewLife Homes projects have community rooms, computers and computer training, onsite managers, food provision through Roadrunner, and service coordination to ensure that residents receive the support services they need to avoid premature institutionalization.”

This is serious work.  It is hard to imagine that they have a model so successful that they have replicated it nine times in Albuquerque!  But let’s look at the Sundowner property.  It is large and spread out--71 units.  Most of them are studios and one bedrooms.  They have been redone to make them extremely energy efficient with state of the art heating and cooling, new energy efficient appliances, and natural and low-voc materials.

Two of the buildings had to be razed and rebuilt.  The others were gutted.  One of the problems was the amount of asbestos that had to be removed.

There are picnic tables, a barbecue, a volleyball court, and a playground for small children.  A community room stands at the front of the property, which is open to residents and community groups as well.  On-site personnel include a service coordinator as well as a manager.  Roadrunner food bank comes by once a month.  A Rapid-Ride bus stop is right there.  A shopping center is across the street.

Some of the units are rented at “market rates.”  For instance, a studio goes for about $550/month.  But if the renter qualifies as having a very limited income that rate can be a whole lot lower.  As their website states, “Our average unit rental including utilities and support services is $280 per month when an equivalent one bedroom market rental in Albuquerque is $682, and monthly SSDI (social security disability income) is $674. Without this supportive housing, most of our residents would be on the streets.”

The obvious question is who pays for all this.  It turns out to be pretty complicated.  NewLife Homes is the non-profit developer.  John Bloomfield, Executive Director of NewLife Homes provided the following information.

"Sundowner is funded with a combination of equity, grants, debt, and pro bono work and donations. The equity is provided by out of state investors through RBC Capital markets which funds 60% of the development cost. There is also a small portion of equity from the sale of SBTC (Sustainable Building Tax Credits). Sundowner achieved the highest level of energy efficiency (LEED Platinum). Grants for the project are cobbled together from several competitively awarded grant sources including the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, HUD Continuum of Care, New Mexico Environment Division (NMED), Community Foundation, City 1% for the Arts. Debt (both construction and permanent) was provided through the state's Housing Trust Fund.  Pro bono work was provided by the architect, Garrett Smith, along with donations from the contractor, Bradbury Stamm, NewLife Homes staff and board members, as well as neighborhood association donations".

For an idea of the impact of this program, check out the first-person stories written by residents of NewLife Homes.  They are found right here.

What is obvious is that providing housing for folks who really need it but can’t afford it can be successful.  It is smart, both in terms of its impact of our people and in its efficient use of our old motels.  Now, if we could only start to tackle some of the other problems of East Central.


One last note.  Albuquerque's "One Percent for the Arts" program is funding a new sign to occupy the vacant space that used to house the big sign out front.  It is said to be full of LED lights and absolutely dazzling!


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Comment by The Bindi Queen on February 25, 2014 at 10:32am

Thanks for some good news.  This sounds like a great project.

Comment by once banned twice shy on February 25, 2014 at 10:59am

Here's one idea:  community gardens (using raised beds) in the spots where the razed old hotels once were.  And maybe food truck pads--like they have in Portland.  You'd think that would be pretty easy to accomplish--and there wouldn't just be blank, gaping holes on Central.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Comment by Dee Cohen on February 25, 2014 at 2:17pm

Thanks for the info. It looks very promising, right down to the bright colors. Best of luck to them. Nothing wrong with a community garden nearby either, OBTS. Dee

Comment by Johnny_Mango on February 26, 2014 at 2:10pm

Here is a postcard of the Sundowner Motor Lodge.  It looks like the late '50's or early '60's to me.  I remember the scripted "hotel entrance' neon sign and sure loved it.  I hope it is safely hidden somewhere!

Comment by K on February 27, 2014 at 7:36am

Great piece Johnny.  Where are their other projects located?  Would be nice to know how they have faired in other parts of the city.   I am always curious if there are any underlying reasons for their efforts; ie, religious; or are they truly just providing good housing to people who really need it. And it is needed on East Central. 

Comment by Johnny_Mango on February 27, 2014 at 9:13am


Here is the list that I have; one address seems to contain multiple projects.

Broadway Apartments, 424 Broadway SE

Kentucky Manor, 437 Kentucky SE

Luna Lodge, 9119 Central Ave NE

NewLife Homes 2,3,4,5,6, 6600 Delia Rd SW

Sundowner Apartments, 6101 Central Ave NE


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