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Housing recommendations show promise for city

December 3, 2018

If Santa Fe is the place where reports by city committees go to die, it also is the town where, occasionally, those citizen reports can make all the difference.

Take the case of the recent report from the — wait for it — Advancing Affordable Housing and Livable Neighborhoods Advisory Group, one of Mayor Alan Webber’s advisory task forces appointed earlier this year to help set priorities for his new administration.

Housing in this city — both the affordability and the availability — is not just a crisis. A crisis indicates a temporary state.

No, the lack of suitable housing for a wide swath of people, all the way from the middle class to the poor and to the chronically homeless, is a new reality. According to a University of New Mexico report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, some 53 percent of Santa Fe’s workforce lives outside the city of Santa Fe, with 20 percent traveling more than 50 miles each way.

People spend their paycheck where they live, for the most part, so that means money earned in Santa Fe is benefiting Rio Rancho, Albuquerque and other towns. It’s estimated that the loss to the economy of Santa Fe because of commuting is some $301.6 million a year. That was from a 2007 Homewise report, and the number of people commuting has increased since then.

The lack of affordable housing is no longer affordable. We lose great citizens. We lose tax revenues. We lose that sense of community that comes when people work, live and send their children to school together.

Of course, this report is nothing new. It’s not as though the employers of Santa Fe and the workers of Santa Fe haven’t realized for years that housing is too expensive and that those costs are hurting Santa Fe residents.

It’s not just the reality of middle-class workers commuting each day; as rents go up, working people who have managed to hang on to their lives in Santa Fe find themselves one (small) unexpected expense away from becoming homeless. That’s what happens when a household pays half its income to rent, as some 6,000 of our neighbors do, according to the report.

Life on the edge is a draining, frightening reality for too many people. What, then, do we do about this new, challenging reality?

Here’s what is encouraging about the latest in a long line of reports. For a number of reasons — increased resolve by city leaders, the business community and people who need houses themselves, as well as better coordination among governments and the possibility of less expensive parcels of land — the stars are lining up for Santa Fe to make inroads into changing its housing reality.

This time, there is real promise that the report will lead to a broader choice of housing choices in town. This is a moment that could change Santa Fe’s future for the better. For that to happen, the mayor and City Council must be resolute about approving housing projects; neighborhood representatives should think of the greater good of the city; and builders and developers should be poised to act.

All individuals need to do is maintain decent credit, so they are ready to get a loan or rent an apartment. Oh, and show up when asked to lobby for recommendations put together by the task force.

What promises to be different this time — and that’s an if — is the expansive nature of the need and the recommendations.

We can all be opposed to the duplex project down the road, in our neighborhood. However, being against the apartments across town, the new housing project around the block and the complex in that empty lot by the high school — such blanket opposition is too much, even for naysayers.

The idea behind today’s housing initiative is to go big, with a variety of policy changes that, taken together, will substantially improve the nature of affordable housing. If successful, people will be able to live where they work, significantly improving our sense of community.

First off will be moves to dedicate $3 million each year in predictable funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This is a smart move. The debate here is finding a source of the funding, but several possibilities exist, including dedicating revenue from short-term rentals or other funds.

Other recommendations: using appropriate city-owned land for affordable housing and working with other governments — the school district and county — that might be able to do the same. Move development in Tierra Contenta forward, creating more housing on the southwest side, while at the same time, using the vacant former Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus to create more residences in the middle of town. And so on, with a broad — but not too broad — number of recommendations designed to make Santa Fe a more livable, affordable city.

Starting early in 2019, task force recommendations will start being discussed, voted on — and, we trust, set into public policy. Santa Fe has the opportunity to make a difference in a crisis that has become an unsettling reality for all too many neighbors. Now, let’s act.

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