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Midtown project to have a range of housing

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When it comes to affordable housing, an emphatic “absolutely” was the overriding answer from the groups tasked with the redevelopment of the Midtown campus.

Just how much that will be remains to be seen as costs for the project on 64-acres of land in the geographic center of town that formerly housed the Santa Fe University of Art and Design have not yet been determined.

Mike Loftin, CEO of Homewise, Inc., which helps people of all income levels buy homes (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

But suffice to say, every effort to exceed the 20% federal guideline mandate will be made, Michael Loftin, executive director of Homewise, said during the latest “Meet the Developer,” zoom meeting on Tuesday.

“Until we know the costs, it’s hard to know the percentage of affordable housing we’re going to be able to achieve,” he said. “But we’ll have housing in tiers, affordable housing at different levels so we’ll have a whole range, which is one of the principles. This is what people’s goals are to make sure we have integrated housing there.”

Homewise, a nonprofit group that assists low-income home buyers with low-interest loans, down-payment assistance and finding affordable homes, is part of a team put together by KDC Real Estate Development and Investments and Cienda Partners, which was selected to serve as the master developer at the city-owned property left largely vacant after the Santa Fe University of Art and Design closed in 2018.

It’s no secret that Santa Fe has an affordable housing issue and helping to meet those needs is a chief goal of the Midtown project.

According to the mayor’s task force on Advancing Affordable Housing and Livable Neighborhoods Advisory Group, “Santa Fe has a critical housing affordability problem. Over 53 percent of the workers in Santa Fe live outside the city and commute to their jobs.”

A slide displayed during the virtual meeting said, “The studies indicate that housing affordability can be improved by adding more market rate units overall, providing different types of housing that will serve different incomes and producing more traditional affordable housing.”

In seeking developers for the project, commitment to affordable housing was paramount, said Daniel Hernandez, moderator of the meeting and project manager for the Midtown redevelopment.

“We know housing and housing affordability is a very important piece of the puzzle in all of Santa Fe,” he said. “And the opportunity to produce new housing that is affordable to people who live in Santa Fe, there is a great opportunity to do that here.”

Still, there is a need to overcome the stigma that the phrase affordable housing conjures, said Alexandra Ladd, director of the mayor’s office of housing.

“What’s so exciting is people are talking about housing in a way that the city has been trying to shift the conversation for the last several years away from the idea that subsidized means substandard, that affordable means crappy,” she said. “That poor people, their needs aren’t as important as the rest of the workforce. This idea that there’s a vision of affordability for everybody and everybody’s needs are different. Everybody needs to have choices along that housing spectrum.”

It’s something community members have been seeking for some time.

“There seemed to be a real consensus from the community of the need of the structure of affordable housing,” said James Feild, chief development officer of Cienda Partners which is half of the team chosen to be the master developer.

“Especially the fact that 53% of people (workers) in Santa Fe can’t afford to live there and have to live somewhere else,” he added. “That to me means we need a lot of different types of housing on site to do our part to address some of that need.”

A mix of housing units, both stand-alone homes, as well as apartments/condos will likely be broken up into units to address not only affordable housing units, but also attainable units and market rate units, Feild said.

The three categories are defined as:

• Affordable housing: Housing whose development and maintenance costs and rents are subsidized. Affordable housing is typically targeted to residents by income level (percentage of area median income);

• Attainable housing: Housing created without direct subsidy but targeted at lower or average median income that are often priced out of the market. This is frequently called the ‘missing middle;” and

• Market rate: Housing created without any subsidy and sold or rented at market rates.

A healthy, inclusive neighborhood will have a cross section of all three types of housing, with ranges throughout each to serve the greatest number of people, Loftin said.

“I think specifically the team is really together on the goals we all talked about, of having a range of housing integrated in the building,” he said.

“Integrated with mix-use so not just housing. I think it’s a really good vision. That’s what we’re doing now. Let’s dig into the detail of the site. What are the costs going to be?” Loftin added.

Creating a viable mixed-use community also is vital to the project’s success, Loftin said.

“If the whole system is healthy, everybody’s needs are better met,” he said. “What we’re doing at Midtown is saying, ‘There is a spectrum of housing that we need to pay attention to, and there’s another spectrum that we need to pay attention to. But there is also a spectrum of other uses that needs to happen. Things like grocery stores, like work places, like restaurants, like schools. For it to be a really vibrant community, we need to pay attention to all of those things.”

It would help make Midtown a shiny penny in Santa Fe.

“We’re hoping Midtown becomes the example and paves the way for other parts of the city,” Loftin said.

The potential to do just that is certainly there, Ladd said.

“Bringing this dynamic approach to this property, frankly, it’s what this property deserves because it’s a great space,” she said.

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