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Affordable housing is a priority (even in your backyard)

Earlier this month, Santa Fe City Council and the mayor voted to amend a 1998 ordinance restricting the entrance to a property on Calle La Resolana to emergency vehicles. The amendment was the last hurdle for the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority to build a two-story, 45-unit, income-restricted affordable apartment community at 1115 Calle La Resolana, which had already been approved by the Planning Commission.

However, as has long come to be Santa Fe tradition from neighbors of proposed affordable housing developments, there was a concerted and vocal effort to put a stop to the Calle La Resolana project. Opponents loudly decried the latest housing project, and cited traffic and safety as major concerns that should prohibit the development.

Santa Fe has long suffered from a widely acknowledged affordable housing problem, but in recent years, that’s become a full-blown crisis. The most recent census data (2018) tells us that there were over 6,000 families in Santa Fe paying unaffordable rent, a staggering 86% of families earning $50,000 a year or less. And that was before the pandemic. Over the next six months, we’re likely to see the most alarming housing crisis in our lifetimes, with as many as 29 million households at risk for eviction.

These facts are hard to ignore and every elected leader in Santa Fe has claimed their support for affordable housing on their path to being elected. However, as is so often the case, the known fact that we have thousands of struggling families is quickly deprioritized with just a few loud neighborhood voices. Tired issues of concern predictably surface (neighborhood character, crime, traffic and general neighborhood density are the usual suspects) and become a rallying point for those who acknowledge and express “concern” about the housing crisis during development discussions.

But, at the end of the day, those who oppose housing developments in their neighborhoods are typically more worried about property values and geographic demarcations of class than addressing a crisis that doesn’t impact them. These “concerns” become dangerous and reinforce systemic inequity when elected leaders give them credence.

City elected officials, nonprofits, community leaders and housing advocates are accustomed to the loud, specious reasoning and ill-informed arguments that dominate housing development conversations. More often than not, opposition to affordable housing development in existing neighborhoods tends to elide the underlying misinformation and motives that serve as the foundation of its arguments. When opponents voice fear for the destruction of neighborhood character, the underlying concern is typically that class lines will be blurred. When the stated concern is safety, the clumsy conflation of economic class and criminal behavior becomes nakedly apparent.

And all too often, the concerns of the housing-secure supersede the concerns, perspectives and lived experiences of those families and individuals who might benefit from such developments – the very same who suffer and are displaced as a result of an unbalanced and inadequate housing market.

While the residents at Calle la Resolana may have felt as though their concerns weren’t heard because they weren’t acted upon, we would ask what has become of the concerns of the more than 1,000 lower-income families that have left Santa Fe in the past two years? Their voices will never be heard by the council. Affordable housing is important and necessary for a sustainable and inclusive economy, but most of all, it is an issue of fundamental rights, even if it pops up in your own “backyard.”

Michael Barrio is executive director of the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition.

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