Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Jenny Rowland has lived and taught school here for nine years. She has never owned a home anywhere. Now that is about to change.
With a $20,000 down payment grant from the nonprofit Homewise organization, she will close on a one-bedroom home in Santa Fe on Feb. 11.
Rowland, 41, who teaches special education and seventh and eighth grade at Milagro Middle School, would have been unable to buy a home in the expensive Santa Fe market without the assistance.
“It’s wonderful, especially right now with rent prices going up so much,” said Rowland.
“Just something that I can own that’s mine, that I can put what I want into it, put what work I want into it, it’s really important to me, it’s really special to me.”
The program came about recently when an anonymous donor, who Homewise CEO Mike Loftin knows, approached him about doing something on affordable housing.
“Who could really use this right now are teachers,” Loftin suggested, and the donor contributed $400,000. “We are looking to try and match that with some other money,” he said.
The down payment assistance for this program is for Santa Fe Public Schools district educators exclusively, including charter schools but not private schools, said Loftin.
Up to $40,000 per educator is available with a cap on income levels. Entry level teachers in Santa Fe make about $40,000 annually “so lots of teachers would be included,” Loftin said.
Kate Noble, president of the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education and district administrators are enthusiastic about the collaboration with Homewise.
“It can help with one of the primary barriers to buying a home, which is having the chunk of money that needs to go to a down payment,” Noble said.
A 2021 Santa Fe Issues Survey polled over 400 district educators. Asked if they can afford a home or condo in town that met their family’s needs, 86% said no, 11.2% were unsure, and under 3% said yes.
Recently elected Santa Fe City Councilor Amanda Chavez, who is also director of special education for Santa Fe Public Schools, learned of the Homewise initiative in a recent meeting.
“I feel like it’s really exciting to see Homewise … step up and do something for (educators) and I hope we can get more people jumping into that pool of seeing what they can do to help our educators,” said Chavez, who taught for 10 years before also serving as an assistant principal and principal.
She recalled her teaching days when, although she was earning above an entry salary, finding an affordable place to live was problematic.
“Santa Fe is expensive to live, it’s very expensive and I will tell you I would have not been able to live here on a teachers’ salary,” Chavez said. “I was a Level Three (pay grade) teacher and at that time I didn’t even rent in Santa Fe, I actually was living with my parents and it’s unacceptable.”
Noble cited figures that show Santa Fe rents have almost doubled in about 10 years while home prices have also shot up.
The average rent in 2012 was just below $800 and in 2021 it’s above $1,500, according to Noble.
The median home price in Santa Fe, meanwhile, hit $560,000 in April.
“Wages have not kept up, so we are facing a widening gap between what folks earn and what they can afford or what housing is available,” Noble said. “That’s very, very serious because educators are the bedrock of the community.”
Loftin said Homewise helps 200 to 300 clients a year in Santa Fe from different professions, including teachers. Loftin is gratified at “how receptive and enthusiastic the Santa Fe Public Schools have been about it.”
Housing crisis acknowledged
The housing crunch for educators prompted the school district and the county and city of Santa Fe to pass a school staffing crisis resolution last year, which included housing cost concerns.
Chavez said education has become more challenging, particularly with the pandemic and societal issues.
Teaching goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic and is not a 9 to 5 occupation, she said.
“As a teacher, your day isn’t just within the school day, you’re working early mornings, late nights, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of prep, you are getting to know your students and also their families, you are providing wrap-around services, it’s not just teaching,” Chavez said.
Amid the educational challenges that the COVID crisis with its on and off remote learning has created, Loftin sees positive results.
“The community’s coming together to try and figure out how to help educators, it’s a really important thing right now,” Loftin said. “I think we need to keep pulling together.”
Chavez thinks that giving educators a shot at the American dream is a win-win.
“They are just so deserving of having a home, having financial stability,” she said.
Perhaps it was prophetic that soon-to-be home owner Rowland teaches at a school named “milagro,” the Spanish word for “miracle.”
“I’m very grateful” to the program, she said. “I think it helps teachers to have a place that they own, to be part of the community. It helps them really feel like they are entrenched in the community and I think it’s a wonderful thing that Homewise is doing.”