TAOS, N.M.—When it comes to the $7.9 million El Cerrito Apartment Homes complex completed in 2007, developer Stephen Crozier of Tierra Realty Trust has been lauded for building an affordable community in a sleek pueblo style reminiscent of mid-century modern design.

However, it's the thought and effort that Crozier put into designing the development around the needs of just 14 of the eventual 56 residents that floored Malinda Dunnam, executive director of local nonprofit Community Against Violence. Those apartments serve the homeless and families displaced by domestic violence, with Community Against Violence providing services for those residents.

“Stephen Crozier called us and said he was looking at doing a building design and wanted to designate some units for survivors of domestic violence,” says Dunnam. “He wanted to meet with us so the building could be designed with safety considerations in mind.”

“He came over with two of his staff and met with me and some of the shelter staff,” Dunnam continues. “We took some information and questions back to the residents to get their comments and then met with him again to provide that information.”

High on the shelter staff and clients' list of concerns were a design that allowed residents to see entrances and exits from inside the apartments, clear lines of sight in the parking lot, ample lighting, and thoughtful landscaping.

“They showed us their proposal for the building design, made some adjustments based on the feedback they received from our clients, and then built it. It was amazingly respectful. Not too many developers put that much thought into who the inhabitants will be,” notes Dunnam.

With a population of 4,700, Taos is a high-cost rural community. Its main economic drivers are tourism and retail, and Linda Bridge, director of housing development for the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA), says 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 in 2005, two other affordable developments completed in Taos were at 100 percent occupancy. Approximately 200 households were on the local housing authority's waiting list. The occupancy rate at 230 affordable apartments in Taos was 99.9 percent, according to an MFA market analysis.

A housing downturn such as the crunch seen today hits those looking to leave abusive situations particularly hard.

“We all know about the lifelong and intergenerational effects of domestic violence on children and families,” says Dunnam. “But survivors of domestic violence often are forced to make decisions that compromise their safety—and their children's as well. If they don't have affordable housing to go to, they end up living on the streets or going back to unsafe situations, because shelters can only house people for so long.”