The 30-unit Cedar Hills Apartments provides the first affordable multifamily housing option for residents of the Pueblo of Acoma reservation in New Mexico.
Chelsea Donoho, Courtesy Travois The 30-unit Cedar Hills Apartments provides the first affordable multifamily housing option for residents of the Pueblo of Acoma reservation in New Mexico.

The Pueblo of Acoma Housing Authority’s (PAHA’s) new 30-unit Cedar Hills Apartments is helping to meet a critical housing need on an Indian reservation about an hour west of Albuquerque, N.M., that suffers from high unemployment and poverty rates and overcrowded units.

In addition, PAHA created the reservation’s first multifamily housing development to reintroduce communal living on the pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America.

The ideas for the development started as a drawing on a napkin during an informal staff meeting. “We put our ideas down and what we wanted it to be. We want to continue to be here. We want our culture to survive and exist,” says Floyd Tortalita, executive director of PAHA. “There are things we have incorporated into this community to reflect that.”

PAHA teamed with Travois, a firm focused exclusively on promoting housing and economic development for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities, and Travois Design and Construction, to create a development that fit in culturally and reflected the pueblo’s history.

Ashley Bland, Travois design director, says a big inspiration was the Sky City, the pueblo’s original village atop a 367-foot-tall mesa that has been inhabited since 1150 A.D.

The development is integrated into the side of a hill, with the buildings clad in stucco, resembling the original pueblo architecture and communal lifestyle. It’s laid out in a "U" shape with housing on three sides and the center designed as a gathering place, with a community center, a playground, a basketball court, a picnic area, and open recreation space with a walking trail.

“The goal being that all the units can look out on that space and with the units being close together to create a sense of community that mimics how they lived historically in the Sky City and on the pueblo,” says Bland.

Tortalita says he hopes the residents will take ownership of the community and knock on one another’s doors to share with one another. With not as many fluent speakers of the Acoma language today, he also says this is an opportunity for older residents to teach the children at the development.

“We are hoping the elders will intermingle with the younger families and share their stories and ideas in our language so the children will start to learn it,” he adds.

The development, which was completed in March, includes 16 two-bedroom and 14 three-bedroom units with rents ranging from $175 to $745. Three units are set aside for households at or below 30% of the area median income (AMI), 20 units at or below 50% AMI, and seven units at or below 60% AMI. In addition, six units are specifically set aside for special-needs households.

A priority for PAHA, Cedar Hills Apartments features high-quality building materials and techniques, including a well-insulated and sealed building envelope; Energy Star-rated doors, windows, and lights; low-flow water fixtures and faucets; and drought-tolerant landscaping. It is Enterprise Green Communities and Energy Star certified.

The $7.6 million development was primarily financed with low-income housing tax credits allocated by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority and equity provided by Raymond James Tax Credit Funds. PAHA committed over $430,000 to close the gap between the development cost and investor proceeds as well as a $1.2 million infrastructure commitment.