Last week’s column lauded two Santa Fe housing nonprofits, the Housing Trust and New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing, for their great work in bringing forward sorely needed multifamily apartment projects that provide affordable subsidized rents.
What went unmentioned was the even more significant accomplishments of the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority under the longtime leadership of Ed Romero.
Even well-informed people often think the housing authority is a city department under the direction of the governing body and dependent on the largess of the city’s budget. It’s not. It’s a quasi-public, standalone entity that makes it on its own. Under Romero, it has done far more than just make it.
The city’s means of oversight is in the approval of the authority’s commissioners, including a tenants commissioner, who act as advising board members. It was formed in 1961 and gained 501 (c)3 nonprofit status in 1988.
The main purpose of any housing authority is to run what are disparagingly called “the projects.” They collect rents, keep up on maintenance, throw out people who don’t toe the line, and manage waiting lists of people hoping for a chance at one of the more than 2,000 units under management scattered all over the city.
And the waiting list is long, over two years typically. It’s long on people, too, because the waiting list stops accepting new applicants when the list is full, which is almost always. So far, not much different than any housing authority anywhere.
What distinguishes ours is Romero. With a background in accounting and a keen sense of the opportunities in Santa Fe, he has brought an entrepreneurial sensibility to his role as executive director. He also grew up on Fiesta Street, a couple blocks north of what’s now Villa Alegre, the most visible project in the authority’s portfolio.
Many people were aghast when Romero decided to throw hundreds of people out of their homes and completely raze the entire West Alameda neighborhood a decade ago. It was not an easy decision, but the buildings were decrepit and maintenance costs were exorbitant. The replacement, however, was nothing short of jaw-dropping, at least from a builder’s perspective.
Villa Alegre was the first LEED Platinum multifamily project ever done in the city and is now one of seven in Santa Fe. With large arrays of solar panels, the cost to the tenants — and they do pay their own utilities even with rents subsidized into double digits — is negligible. The LEED protocol ensures water efficiency, energy efficiency and good indoor air quality. Romero wasn’t required to do anything beyond basic code, but he took on a certification level that very few of the greenest of green builders even attempt.
Hardheaded altruism is a fine trait in an entrepreneurial developer. Romero’s gift is in assembling the money from a wide variety of sources. Over the years, he’s whittled them down. Those with too many strings attached or too much bureaucratic reportage are left for others.
His efforts have produced organizational revenues that provide constant maintenance and improvements to existing buildings, while also allowing the purchase of opportunity properties around town when available — including single-family homes.
A current project is building and funding a new clinic in the Hopewell Mann neighborhood in the triangle formed by St. Michael’s Drive, Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive. It’s the city’s poorest, most dense, youngest and often most ignored precinct.
It’s also next to the soon-to-be-something-amazing midtown campus, a big project expected to do many things, like providing affordable multifamily rentals, including deeply affordable. That will entail a new level of neighborhood engagement. Romero needs to be in the mix.
Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.