Another try at affordable housing - Albuquerque Journal

Another try at affordable housing

The City Council this week received the latest report on how to address Santa Fe’s affordable and rental housing problems.

The issue, of course, is an old one, and new the report acknowledges that. Santa Fe already has had a lot of reports on its housing problems. The new report, by an advisory committee established by Mayor Alan Webber after he took office in March, in fact cites some of the previous studies.

In 2007, there was an attempt to quantify what Santa Fe’s economy loses each year because the majority of its workforce commutes into the city and doesn’t contribute much to the local economy. The estimated annual loss was $301.6 million.

And there was a report in 2013 that said 72 percent of commuters into Santa Fe who’d moved away cited the high cost of housing here for why they’d left. “Various reports,” the new documents says, indicate Santa Fe has a shortage of about 5,000 rental units.

There’s some solid recommendations in the new report by the Advancing Affordable Housing and Livable Neighborhoods Advisory Group. It calls for providing $3 million annually for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which currently provides down payment assistance, rental help to very low-income households, and real estate and infrastructure funding to support nonprofit housing development.

The program currently gets money from development fees; the new report suggests more funding from “revenue” – that must mean taxes – from short-term rentals like Airbnb units, general obligation bonds (as in Albuquerque) or some portion of existing tax collections as new options.

The study supports prior ideas for apartment development in the St. Michael’s Drive corridor and on the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus

Also among the report’s recommended “most critical actions” is for the city to provide greater density bonuses than are currently allowed for affordable housing projects.

That idea, like many in the report, flies in the face of Santa Fe political history over the past few decades. Density – that is, any housing development that isn’t single-family housing – is a hard sell in the existing neighborhoods of the City Different.

The affluent east and north sides certainly don’t want apartments or lower-cost homes around, and the councilors representing the south side have made it clear they no longer want their neighborhoods to be the dumping ground for what the rest of the city won’t accept.

The report calls for the city to donate city-owned land for affordable housing projects “through a transparent RFP process.” Last year, Councilor Peter Ives tried to promote using a vacant city parcel at Yucca and Zia for apartments, and got called a corrupt schemer by neighborhood homeowners opposed to the idea. In that case, it should be noted, there hadn’t been an RFP or specifics provided about what exactly would be built on the site, so the idea of a transparent process in advance of similar proposals in the future is a good idea. But the basic political problem is trying to bring renters into a neighborhood that doesn’t want them.

Also recommended is promotion of the development of “accessory dwelling units,” like casitas in the back yard, by making requirements less burdensome or with a loan program. Again, the devil’s in the density – what one homeowner may promote as an affordable housing unit or a place for mom to live out her retirement, a neighbor may see as destruction of an area’s single-family character, yet another Airbnb unit in the making or an effort to create an additional rental unit for an absentee landlord, currently or in the future.

Mayor Webber is promising to not let this new plan for addressing Santa Fe’s affordable housing problem gather dust on the shelf. He’s already scheduled to talk about it with the local homebuilders association next week.

Mike Loftin, CEO of the Homewise nonprofit that has been successful at developing affordable housing and helping people buy them, and who served as co-chair of the advisory group, says the report “shows what can happen when dedicated Santa Feans come together to address a shared challenge.”

Ah, there’s the rub – how to get a shared buy-in for affordable housing in my neighborhood. The new report has a whole section on supporting neighborhoods, which recommends ensuring “a land use and real estate development process that is sensitive to enhancing neighborhood quality of life and preventing involuntary displacement.”

We hope that Webber and the City Council, along with help from people like Loftin, can do that and at the same time pull off development of denser housing and rental apartments around Santa Fe that enhances affordability and quality of life in neighborhoods. Again, they will be swimming against the tide of public sentiment as expressed in numerous zoning battles over the years.

As we’ve said before, compromise is needed on all sides – developers have to realize no one in Santa Fe wants a giant, cookie-cutter apartment complex next door, and neighborhood advocates should check out places around the country where denser housing has created vibrant neighborhoods.

Maybe the next report on affordable housing needs to be a step-by-step campaign playbook on how to make many of the goals and recommendations in this new study a political reality in Santa Fe.

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