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Santa Fe selects hotel to house the homeless

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The city of Santa Fe has until Dec. 30 to spend $17 million of CARES Act funding and is making some sizable purchases.

City officials are currently in the process of financing a $2 million purchase of The Santa Fe Suites, a 122-unit hotel off Interstate 25, to provide housing for homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another $500,000 of funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development may be used as well, according to Affordable Housing Director Alexandra Ladd.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the city has stressed the importance of preventing an outbreak among the local homeless population, which has happened in such communities in Albuquerque and Gallup.

However, only about a third of the available units will be reserved for the chronically homeless. The rest will be used for those who have seen their incomes reduced during the pandemic or whose salary is too small to rent in Santa Fe’s expensive housing market.

“If you think about one big project that can make a one-time dent in our affordable housing needs, it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Mayor Alan Webber told the Journal.

Those hoping to rent one of the affordable units must go through an application process similar to other apartment complexes. Rents are expected to be around $700 per month once government subsidies for residents are included.

Ladd said the hotel’s layout, which consists of separate condominiums, made it ideal for the city’s needs, as they expect there to be few repairs needed for each unit, which averages around 320 square feet.

“What’s really great about it is that it’s been well-maintained over the years,” Ladd said. “Each of the units has been fully furnished, not only with furniture, but also all the fixtures you would need.”

City officials, though, have stressed two things regarding the hotel: it’s not a homeless shelter and the city will not own it, but instead the money will be used to pay off debt service on the property.

During Wednesday’s Quality of Life Committee meeting, Ladd said a nonprofit sponsor will eventually take over the day-to-day operations, including providing social services aimed at removing residents from the cycle of homelessness.

But a sponsor, whether it’s one or multiple, still hasn’t been selected. That leaves little time before the Dec. 30 deadline, by which the city is expected to finish placing people in each unit.

“That’s up in the air just a little bit,” Ladd said, adding that a sponsor may not be finalized by the deadline. “Normally, we would have a little more time.”

She said Community Solutions, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness, will take initial ownership of the property.

Wednesday’s meeting also produced updated numbers on the number of homeless individuals in Santa Fe – a study identified 259 households as being homeless, but said the number is probably closer to 400. By comparison, an Urban Institute study found Albuquerque had 567 homeless people in 2019.

Marisol Atkins, who presented the study on homelessness in Santa Fe, said many more are at risk of becoming homeless – 96% of the city’s low-income population is considered “housing burdened,” meaning at least 30% of their salary goes toward rent.

Webber said his administration has worked toward cutting the gap of housing units needed in Santa Fe, which at one time totaled about 5,000. He said more units have been added, but that it’s difficult to know how much progress has been made since demand for housing units continues to increase.

“It’s a moving target,” he said. “(Demand) grows faster than our ability to build.”

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