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Life in the city’s affordable housing crisis

Jamie Durfee

I am a born-and-raised Santa Fean, and I occupy the casita that has ignited an effort to change an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance and put some Santa Fe residents up in arms.

Questions have been raised about owner-tenant occupancy requirements, the attack on “traditional, single-family neighborhood character,” and parking. All of these are classic arguments against new options for affordable housing that are rooted in a misguided concept of “how things were” and NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard).

I would like to address these factless and off-base arguments and express my hope for change in Santa Fe.

One argument against the ordinance change is owner-tenant occupancy and the impact it will have on the value of neighborhoods. Many believe that if the property owner doesn’t actually live on the property, it will pave the way for “slumlords” who capitalize on leases and subleases, rent to negligent renters, and dismiss the upkeep and maintenance of their properties. In my case and the majority of others, this is simply not true.

My landlord was diligent when selecting us as renters, and continues to maintain her property beautifully with our offered help. Most people who own investment properties take the same approach – if for no other reason than to protect their investment.

The real impact of the owner-occupancy requirement is that it renders casitas vacant, or only affords them to those wealthy enough to rent an entire property for upward of $2,500/month – and in these cases, the casitas are used for visitors or entertaining, not to house Santa Fe residents who need a place to live. This cost-of-living is simply not viable for young families, couples, and singles wanting a sense of home and community that is within their means.

Many opposed to the ordinance change claim casita rental is an attack on “traditional, single-family neighborhood character,” this is flawed romanticism around the “way things were,” which is the exact root of the affordable housing problem. Everyone is scared of changing codes and trying new things, yet they hope for entirely different results. No one argues against the need for more affordable housing, but when it is in their own backyard we hear an uproar from “concerned citizens.”

The modern family looks very different than when these ordinances were passed, letting archaic city code define where people can live and what people can do with their properties in order to keep “single-family” neighborhoods the same is the worst kind of NIMBYism. It will continue to stifle options, and prevent the next generation of Santa Fe from securing housing in quiet, central neighborhoods.

The last major argument is that by renting out existing casitas and allowing for additional construction of ADUs, parking and transit will become problematic and congested.

On Don Cubero Avenue, where I currently reside, there is ample room for cars to park on both sides of the street, while still allowing for emergency vehicles and other traffic to pass safely. Ironically enough, I park in the driveway, out of the way of my neighbors. I learned I had to do this the hard way since my neighbors took it upon themselves to intentionally crash into my car (the driver was subsequently charged by SFPD), simply because they did not like where I had parked on the public, city street.

Harassment by my neighbors didn’t end there. Since the day I moved in I’ve suffered bullying at the hands of my neighbors. In addition to crashing into my car, they’ve trespassed on my landlord’s property and cut down the trees in my yard as to better their view of my comings and goings, stalked me by taking photos and videos of me and any visitors I’ve had, and accosted me in the street when I’ve come home after 11 p.m.

The intent of the harassment, coupled with the city’s obvious and unfortunate siding with my neighbors, has been to force me out of my home at a time when no hard-working individual should be evicted. Even with all the pressure that this harassment, by the very people who I had hoped would be part of the community I was looking for, has put on my life, I am staying here to fight for change in Santa Fe.

The proposed change in this ordinance is not a one-stop solution. There are many who argue that this amendment will create new issues, and, as with all change and progress, they are right.

The first step is passing this ordinance. Holding back this forward progress based on fear of “what-ifs” is a red herring. Instead of fighting change, it’s time to come together and create a Santa Fe that allows future generations to flourish here. If we don’t do something now, Santa Fe’s affordable housing outcome is bleak.