TAOS, N.M. - In this northern New Mexico town of cobalt evening skies, sunbaked pueblos, and skiers’ delights, developer Stephen Crozier has built a community that arguably could have been built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s. El Cerrito Apartment Homes was actually built in 2007 by architecture firm VanAmburgh+Pares+Co., based in Santa Fe.

“I like to push the envelope architecturally,” said Crozier. “I’m very fond of some of the modern design from the 1950s. El Cerrito is the pueblo style done in a very contemporary way.”

Crozier’s locally based firm Tierra Realty Trust partnered with the nonprofit Golden Spread Rural Frontier Coalition to develop the property, which is located near a middle school in Taos, population 4,700.

Fifty-six of the 57 units at the property are reserved for households earning between 40 percent and 60 percent of the area median income.

“El Cerrito sets a new standard for affordable housing projects in the rural part of the state,” said Linda Bridge, director of housing development for the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA). “The apartments are absolutely beautiful. The fact that they also incorporate green measures and serve special populations in an area where affordable housing is sorely needed is nothing short of amazing.”

Fourteen of the units are set aside for the homeless and those displaced by domestic violence. Community Against Violence, a local nonprofit, is providing services for these specific populations.

Taos is a high-cost rural community. The main drivers of its economy are tourism and retail. Bridge said this has resulted in an environment where few can afford homes. At the time of El Cerrito’s application for low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) in 2005, two other affordable developments completed in Taos were at 100 percent occupancy. About 200 households were on the local housing authority’s waiting list. The vacancy rate at 230 affordable apartments in Taos was 99.9 percent, according to an MFA market analysis.

The development experienced little local opposition. “Tierra has built up a solid reputation of building sustainable, beautiful homes. El Cerrito won a design competition that was sponsored by [MFA],” noted Bridge. “The only other project that impressed the judges was another of Mr. Crozier’s projects. That says something.”

The buildings are aligned for “passive solar gain,” said Crozier. That means that insulated glass storefront walls allow maximum natural light in, while keeping winter night air out. The community center, with its weathered metal siding, receives about 75 percent of its electricity from a photovoltaic system. That’s more energy savings than many other so-called “green” projects.

Financing for the $7.9 million project comes from $5.3 million in LIHTC equity. The syndicator is Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. An insured loan from MFA provided $670,000. The project also received HOME soft money and a Federal Home Loan Bank grant.