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Push to put bond financing via tax increase on March ballot

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association on Wednesday received the “green” light, so to speak, to try for City Council support for bond financing that would provide $2.5 million a year, using a tax increase, to support affordable and rental-unit housing.

The association hopes to get the measure on the March municipal election ballot.

About 40 people – including many city or state employees and four Santa Fe mayoral candidates – attended a public panel discussion Thursday morning hosted by the home builders. Officials from Albuquerque described how their city has used public dollars to leverage private investment in affordable housing development, including for apartments.

Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Home Builders Association, leads a panel discussion on funding affordable rental housing in Santa Fe Thursday October 19, 2017. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Home Builders Association executive director Kim Shanahan posed a question at Thursday’s meeting, asking if attendees would support city general obligation bonds for a trust fund to help finance affordable, multi-family rental projects.

At Thursday’s meeting, guests were given green, yellow or pink stickers to place on a large poster board. About 25 green stickers, signaling “yes” to support the bond funding idea, were added and there were two yellows that indicated uncertainty. No pink sticker “no’s” were added.

Santa Fe is considered to be in something of a rental-housing crisis, with less than a 3 percent rental vacancy rate. Recent apartment development proposals have failed to gain public or City Council support during the approval process.

Previously, “nobody has come up with anything concrete like this,” said Shanahan, referring to the trust fund plan to support affordable units.

He said $2.5 million would come from bonds supported by a property tax increase rather than through the city’s Capital Improvement Plan. The annual CIP funds brick-and-mortar projects like roads, airport and utility service improvements, and building needs with dollars from various city sources, and the City Council decides which projects get funding.

Shanahan said the tax increase would likely be a few extra dollars per month for property owners. He said trying for funding through the council’s CIP process isn’t impossible, but that he would rather take a plan to the voters so the public will be “consciously” aware of what their dollars would be supporting.

At the meeting at the home builders’ offices, Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, University of New Mexico associate professor of Architecture and Planning Claudia Isaacs and Rebecca Velarde, Albuquerque’s community development manager, discussed their city’s Workforce Housing Opportunity Act approved in 2006 and which has renewed ever since.

It allows for about 8 percent of the city’s CIP bond program to go toward affordable housing projects, mostly as “gap financing” for projects in need of additional financial support.

Velarde, whose office within Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services Department oversees the trust fund, said not including bond money approved this year, nearly all of the $37 million allocated over the past 10 years has been committed to various projects that meet “strict” application requirements.

The city dollars leveraged about $230 million worth of projects in the city, she said, or 1,285 total residential units, with 1,100 being under market rate.

“That’s a huge thing for Albuquerque’s economy, affordable housing developers (and) people who need affordable housing,” said Velarde, adding the projects have provided $7 million in gross receipts taxes for the state.

Isaacs helped facilitate public education and input for the Albuquerque program through brochures, focus groups and community meetings. She said some of the biggest obstacles were educating the public on who would be eligible for the workforce housing – generally, households with incomes that are 80 percent or less of the area median income – and reassuring neighbors about what kind of residents the new units would attract.

Mayoral candidates Ron Trujillo, Joseph Maestas, Alan Webber and Kate Noble all attended the presentation. Trujillo, Maestas and Webber all mentioned that the proposal, if it were placed on the ballot, needs proper public education, like Albuquerque’s had.

Maestas, whose current city council term ends in March, said he supports the bond financing idea as the first “viable plan” to combat the city’s affordable housing crisis in a permanent way. But he said he wants to evaluate Santa Fe’s current debt situation first. Noble said she’s interested in a hybrid financing plan by including some resources from the city’s CIP program.

Trujillo, another sitting councilor whose term is expiring, said the proposal needs “vetting.” He said the reason local residents have voted this year against two tax increases, including one proposed on sugary drinks, was a lack of communication about who the increases would effect and why the taxes were needed. “You have to be honest with the people,” he said.

Shanahan said he thinks there is adequate time to educate the public before March. The next step, he said, is to ask a city councilor to propose a sponsor, which decides if it’s placed on the ballot.

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