SANTA FE, N.M. — “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens addresses themes of duality, class struggle, social injustice and transformation.
A recent report by the Oakland, Calif.-based Human Impact Partners, done in conjunction with Santa Fe’s Chainbreaker Collective and the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership, tells the tale of two cities that exist within Santa Fe.
Santa Fe may be known as “The City Different,” but “Equitable Development and Risk of Displacement: Profiles of Four Santa Fe Neighborhoods” focuses on differences within the city. It also talks about what needs to be done to achieve the “One Santa Fe” ideal that city leaders say they seek.
“People in Santa Fe experience life here in very different ways,” said Tomás Rivera, executive director of Chainbreaker Collective. “What’s happening is we’re creating a city that’s increasingly segregated, and it’s very much along race lines. Some of that is beyond the city’s control, but not all of it is. They can make policies that can change that.”
Rivera started Chainbreaker as a bicycle resource center more than a decade ago, but it morphed into an economic and environmental justice organization.
“What brought us into the realm of urban planning was that we kept seeing money going to infrastructure projects downtown at the expense of other neighborhoods,” he said. “A bike share program, for example, would have taken money away from our bus system and put it toward serving tourists downtown.”
Rivera said he understands that, in a city heavily reliant on the tourist economy, city leaders are apt to cater to the tourism dollar. But they can’t forget about the people who live here, the people they represent.
“Those are investments in the city and, when they are not being invested in a way that’s equitable, it may look good politically, but it’s not good for people and is actually harmful. It’s that which is creating this tale of two cities,” he said.
Chainbreaker’s intervention helped keep the bike share initiative from gaining traction. Instead, the $50,000 earmarked for bike sharing was reallocated to free bus passes for people who got a bicycle through Chainbreaker – paid for with their own labor – or participating bike shops.
“It’s helped out a lot of people,” Rivera said.
But that was just one small victory and there are more injustices to be corrected, he said.
For example, the study shows that, while a large proportion of children live on the south side, that part of town has the fewest parks. It is also under-served by bicycle infrastructure and access to buses, he said.
“What we’ve seen are things that are inherently inequitable are constantly getting prioritization at the expense of lower income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color,” he said. “It’s the small decisions – a sidewalk here, a trail here, bike share infrastructure here – it’s all those little things that add up to people being segregated.”
The 40-page report, released in August, focuses on four Santa Fe neighborhoods impacted by gentrification, the gradual displacement of lower income families caused by urban renewal efforts and the influx of the affluent.
The neighborhoods are Downtown and Canyon Road, which the report describes as areas that have undergone major transformations over the decades as the city evolved into an art hub and tourist destination; the Hopewell-Mann neighborhood, now most at risk for gentrification; and the Airport Road Corridor, the fastest-growing section of town, due partly to the displacement of families from other parts of town and the fact that city planners have designated the area for urban growth.
A city divided
Kim Gihuly of Human Impact Partners said the nonprofit group is generally made up of public health researchers who conduct these kinds of studies all over the country to help guide local government decision-making.
“Decisions that are made are often based on economic factors, but a lot of decisions also have an impact on public health. For that reason, this type of research can be used as a tool to give decision-makers another perspective,” she said.
The research, funded from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, drew from data produced by local, regional and national sources, and a pair of focus group sessions. More than 20 indicators of gentrification, displacement and investment were used, including demographic data, home values, transportation, parks and affordable housing.
The report defines gentrification as “a process that occurs when an urban neighborhood has relatively low housing costs along with desirable qualities such as proximity to employment centers or attractive housing stock.”
It goes on to say, “In many urban areas, gentrification is a racialized process, and occurs as wealthier White residents move into historically African American and Latino neighborhoods.”
The report says that pretty much describes what’s happened in Santa Fe.
“Over the last 50 years, as tourism, the arts, upscale dining and retail transformed the core of Santa Fe, residents who could no longer afford to live close to Downtown moved to the outskirts,” it says. “Over time, these changes shifted where and how people live, splintering the city into more distinct – but more stratified – neighborhoods.”
Half of Santa Fe’s population is Latino, though the study notes it is a largely segregated population. Seventy-two percent of people living in the Hopewell-Mann area, and as much as 89 percent in some census tracts on the southwest side, are Latino, while that group makes up just 17 percent of the population around Canyon Road and roughly 25 percent Downtown.
The study says that poverty disproportionately affects Latinos, with the latest U.S. Census data showing that, while 18 percent of Santa Feans live in poverty, 25 percent of them are Latino and 11 percent are White.
Close to 30 percent of the city’s children live in poverty, nearly double what it was 15 years ago.
Elaine Baca and her family have felt the effects. She used to live in the Hopewell-Mann neighborhood on Calle Lorca with her husband and five kids, one of whom is autistic. Between her job with Santa Fe Public Schools and her husband’s with the postal service, they were bringing in about $60,000 per year and barely making it. When her husband went on disability, it got harder.
Even with Section 8 assistance that reduced their rent payment to something between $300 and $800 per month, they couldn’t make ends meet.
“With the added cost of utilities, such as trash and water for a family of seven, we were forced to move because we could not afford to continue living in Santa Fe,” she said.
While her kids still attend school in Santa Fe and she’s still employed there, they drive 45 minutes into town each day from their new home on Santa Clara Pueblo.
“We commute every day because we can afford this home and couldn’t afford that one,” she said. “My kids go to school here, we shop here but, at the end of the day, we leave where we live our lives and go to the home we sleep at.”
Their situation is not unique. As the study points out, a city survey indicates that 62 percent of the people who work in Santa Fe don’t live in the city – an increase of 11 percentage points since 2002. Seventy-two percent of those commuters say housing in town is too expensive.
The study includes testimonials from Santa Fe residents, and former residents, gathered during two focus group sessions.
“A number of Santa Feans moved to Rio Rancho because of affordability and they commute every day,” said one lifelong resident, who added that, because of that, “a lot of Santa Feans are taken out of the local economy.”
“My cousin’s family lived on West Alto Street for generations,” said another. “Then their house was condemned by the city, bought out, and now it’s a casita/B&B.”
Working to create ‘One Santa Fe’
Because she wanted to help others who experienced the same plight, Baca got involved in helping Chainbreaker get the “Residents’ Bill of Rights” resolution passed by the City Council in July.
The resolution is intended to help guide city leaders when making decisions on housing and urban planning. It calls for the city to make sure that housing opportunities are accessible to historically marginalized populations, that neighborhoods are protected from economic factors and policies that lead to displacement, and that residents of minority and low income neighborhoods have a say in decisions that affect their lives.
“I think it’s a good first step,” Rivera said. “It creates a framework for policy-makers to look at and say, ‘Equity is something we need to look at first.’ ”
City Councilor Joseph Maestas, whose district includes Hopewell-Mann and Canyon Road, sponsored the bill.
“It’s the first salvo in an effort to really, truly integrate a policy that makes sure investment is allocated equitably,” he said, adding that he has plans for a bigger, broader social justice initiative that would be modeled after the Equity and Social Justice strategic plan adopted by Washington state’s King County.
“It’s going to require a lot of effort from groups like Chainbreaker and others, but we need to get behind this,” Maestas said.
District 3 City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez co-sponsored the Residents’ Bill of Rights resolution and wants to be sure the city backs up its rhetoric.
“Santa Fe is very proud of being a progressive community, but I wonder sometimes if we are progressive because it makes us feel better or because we are really interested in equity,” he said, adding that the city has passed progressive affordable housing laws and has one of the highest living wages in the country. “The question is, are we really prepared as a community to talk about inequities? That’s where the truth lies.”
Rivera says inequity is the elephant in the room no one likes to talk about.
“The purpose of this report and the purpose of our organization’s work is to point to the elephant in the room and say, ‘OK, now we know,'” he said. “At this point, it’s out in the open and we’re talking about it. It’s the responsibility of all of us in the community to make these changes.”
A Look At The City Different By Neighborhood
By sections of Santa Fe, here are some of the findings from the Human Impact Partners report.
Primarily a commercial neighborhood. It is an aging neighborhood made up of primarily white residents. It has experienced a decline in population and housing costs in recent years, and it’s the only one of the four neighborhoods that had an increase in household income. Downtown residents tend to walk more and are less car-dependent.
Gentrification and displacement is not much of a concern these days, the economic and demographic changes having already taken place in the 1960s and ’70s.
“Today, as Downtown is not a residential neighborhood, few people live there and those that do live there do not experience the economic vulnerabilities and housing insecurity that typically put people at risk of displacement,” the report states.
Its art galleries and proximity to Downtown make it a tourist magnet and account for one-third of its housing units being classified as “seasonal vacancies.” Home values are much higher than other parts of town and the area has the lowest percentage of cost-burdened households, the term defined as those with housing payments greater than 30 percent of income.
Like Downtown, it has a significantly older, and predominantly white, population. And it is hardly at risk for gentrification, which already occurred.
“Home values continue to appreciate for higher income residents, and there appears to be no risk of continued loss of affordable housing,” the report states. “Rather, a challenge in Canyon Road may be that it is a fairly inaccessible community that others in Santa Fe feel isolated from, and unable to enjoy the benefits of.”
Predominantly a Latino neighborhood made up of renters, one-third of Hopewell-Mann households live in poverty and 60 percent are burdened by housing costs. The number of cost-burdened households has increased significantly in recent years as incomes have declined.
The report says that conditions make the neighborhood prone to gentrification.
“Proximity to Downtown, a small but growing number of upscale retail amenities, and access to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure may make Hopewell-Mann susceptible to gentrification, with subsequent risk of displacement for current residents,” it says.
Airport Road Corridor
The Airport Road Corridor has experienced tremendous growth since 2000, its population increasing about 36 percent to nearly 23,000. The vast majority are Latino and about one-third of the population is 18 or younger.
It is geographically the largest neighborhood covered by the study and contains the most housing, about one-third of it mobile homes. Two-thirds of the homes are owner-occupied.
“Overall, Airport Road Corridor is providing a source of relatively affordable housing – much of which is owner-occupied – for Santa Fe’s middle and lower income Latino households, and especially for its many youth,” the report states. “Given these factors, and its greater distance to Downtown, the Airport Road Corridor community has few risk factors for gentrification and displacement, particularly when compared to Hopewell-Mann.”