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‘Housing problem is truly a crisis’ in Santa Fe

November 14, 2018

Providing city-owned land to build more homes, easing regulations for property owners to put up casitas, expanding down-payment programs for prospective new homeowners — these are just a few of the recommendations in a new report on Santa Fe’s housing problems.

An advisory group appointed by Mayor Alan Webber at the outset of his administration earlier this year is scheduled to present the 13-page report to City Council on Wednesday.

Some of its other recommendations: making it easier for developers to provide work-at-home spaces, using part of the vacant, city-owned midtown college campus for low-cost housing and dedicating $3 million a year to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“Despite Santa Fe’s efforts,” the report says, “the affordable housing problem has gotten worse in recent years, negatively affecting the well-being of families, neighborhoods, and the economy.

“For many, the housing problem is truly a crisis. Hundreds of Santa Feans are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless,” the report continues. “More than 6,000 households are paying more than half their income on rent, leaving little else for basic needs like food and medicine.”

The report notes that 53 percent of the city’s workforce lives outside city limits, and nearly a third of those people commute from more than 20 miles away.

“The fabric of the community is weakened,” the report says, “as precious resources — people’s time, energy, and money — are drawn away by high housing costs or long commutes.”

The 23-member Affordable Housing and Livable Neighborhoods Advisory Group is one of eight such advisory panels created by Webber this year to study and recommend solutions for various problems the city faces.

One section of the new report, which highlights the shortage of rental homes in the city that are affordable for low-income families, says other studies have determined Santa Fe falls short by about 5,000 rental housing units. “According to the City’s Affordable Housing Plan,” the report says, “2,435 units need to be affordable to households earning less than $25,000 a year in order to fill the gap of what’s needed.”

The cost to rent these units would have to be less than $625 a month, which is “typically is not possible without the help of some kind of affordable housing subsidy,” the report says.

One factor that could help lower rent costs would be the availability of more apartments and houses for rents, the group recommended, “because too many people are pursuing too few rental units, pushing up the rental rates across the price spectrum and putting pressure on families with lower incomes who are in the same market for the available supply.”

Some of the group’s recommendations are reminders of recent controversies over proposed developments in established Santa Fe neighborhoods. The city is known for drawn-out battles — and marathon city meetings — with neighbors protesting new apartment complexes or housing projects, fighting rentals of guest houses and opposing other changes.

However, Mike Loftin — chairman of the housing advisory group and CEO of Homewise, a a not-for-profit housing service — said Tuesday that new developments and proposed changes in zoning rules shouldn’t necessarily prompt “not-in-my-backyard” opposition in neighborhoods.

“If you take the time to do it right, you can find compromises,” Loftin said. “If we listen to people in the neighborhoods, we can come to agreements.”

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