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Census: Rio Rancho is fastest-growing city in New Mexico

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Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 12:00 am

Rio Rancho's recognition as the fastest growing city in the state is exciting.

The current reality of the growth, however, is less so.

The U.S. Census data released last week showed Rio Rancho saw a 69 percent increase in population since 2000. The city burgeoned from 51,765 to 87,521 people between 2000 and 2010, and has now surpassed Santa Fe as the third largest city in the state.

But, as a result of such rapid growth, the city now has a surplus of homes, Mark Fiedler, a Rio Rancho real estate agent, said.

"A good portion of our housing growth over the last 10 years occurred because Rio Rancho had room to build and land was relatively inexpensive. Today, we have 2-2.5 times the available home inventory," Fiedler said. "We need to be in balance between a buyer's market and a seller's market. I think we're getting to a place in Rio Rancho where we need more local job growth and retail infrastructure to support future population and housing growth."

The city is certainly suffering the consequences of a lag in retail and job growth within Rio Rancho. Its revenue from gross receipts taxes has decreased since 2007, City Manager James Jimenez said.

"The growth in Rio Rancho over the past 10 years has put a strain on the city's ability to provide services to the community because the tax base has not kept pace. For example, since fiscal year 2007, the city's primary funding source to provide public services, gross receipts tax, has declined by nearly one-third."

Still, the reasons why people moved to Rio Rancho in the first place still apply.

Affordable housing and good schools are the main reasons why Rio Rancho attracts residents, according to Rio Rancho City Councilor Mike Williams. He moved to Rio Rancho in 1985.

"At that time I was working for the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department and what made me move to Rio Rancho was I got the best house for my money," Williams said. "At first, Rio Rancho started out as a retirement community and then a great starter community to raise a family. And along with our great school system it attracted a lot of people from all over the state and out of state."

Williams' words were echoed by Rio Rancho resident Deborah Checkley.

She moved to Rio Rancho from Seattle in 2007 in the midst of the city's population boom.

The quality of schools and affordable housing played a large role in her family's decision to buy a house in Rio Rancho.

"Rio Rancho is one of the better school districts. Also there is room here to grow which makes housing a lot more affordable," Checkley said.

The average selling price for a home in Rio Rancho is still cheaper than in Albuquerque. The median sale price for a home in Rio Rancho is $181,304 compared to Albuquerque's $194,358, according to a real estate database queried by Fiedler.

He, however, was hesitant to attribute Rio Rancho's growth to lower home prices.

A home in Rio Rancho is expensive for some. It just depends on where residents move from.

"It's affordable here in comparison to a lot of states and high in comparison to a lot of states. There are places in Michigan and in the South and other places you can buy a house cheaper. It depends where you come from. The prices look great, but if you come from the Midwest or the South the prices are high," Fiedler said.

In Detroit, the average price for a home is $15,000. In Berkeley, Ca. it's $634,000 according to Fiedler.

Fiedler focused on the value of Rio Rancho's homes to explain their popularity, Fiedler said.

"I think the Albuquerque market has been growing significantly, (but) I think one of the differences between Rio Rancho and Albuquerque is that the homes are newer for the price," Fiedler said.

With the excess of homes built in Rio Rancho, the prices will most likely not spike. Whether the homes will be filled is another question.

Meanwhile, the population growth that has already occurred may qualify Rio Rancho for federal monies, Jimenez said.

"Population is key data used in federal assistance and grant programs for things such as public health and education.

"The fact that Rio Rancho and Sandoval County had the largest percentage population increases in the state over the last 10 years enhances the opportunity for entities that operate in our community and provide these services to receive more funding," Jimenez continued. "A growing community also strengthens Rio Rancho's case to receive federal transportation dollars that are allocated to state government for distribution to local governments."

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