Housing measures in the works in Santa Fe to ease shortage

Mayor Alan Webber. Gabriela Campos/New Mexican file photo

Santa Fe’s housing shortage has been a simmering topic for years.

Expect the discussion to heat up even more in the coming months.

The Santa Fe City Council soon will take up a contentious proposal to ease residency, parking and other restrictions on so-called accessory dwelling units, also known as casitas or guest houses, to try to create more options for people to live.

The proposal is among a series of policy issues council members — and the public — will be considering in the months ahead as part of a larger effort to try to alleviate Santa Fe’s housing crunch. Other ideas on the table include infill projects on city-owned land and continuing a fee builders are allowed to pay in lieu of adding affordable units to their developments.

The proposed changes to the ordinance governing accessory dwelling units would make only a small dent in the city’s housing shortage. But the proposal, which is generating opposition from neighborhood advocates, represents what some see as a first big test for Mayor Alan Webber and his ability to get any other housing-related proposals through the City Council.

“We don’t have any illusions that this is going to solve the city’s housing problem,” Webber said Friday during his weekly address on Facebook, referring to the proposed changes involving accessory dwelling units.

“The truth is, it is a very small measure when it comes to the 4,000 to 5,000 units we need for housing now and in the future,” he said. “But it’s a small step that signals that we’re all willing to make some small changes to adopt new policies that will help grow the city’s housing stock.”

In an interview Monday, Webber said the city is embarking on a “comprehensive strategy that puts lots of different pieces in motion simultaneously.

“We recognize that change is hard, but the status quo means we’ll continue to be 4,000 to 5,000 housing units short, and we’ll lose young people to other communities and our growing businesses won’t be able to hire the talent they need,” he said.

Among the proposals in the pipeline:

• The council will hold a public hearing June 26 on a proposal to relax various restrictions on the use of accessory dwelling units. Currently, the city code prohibits a property owner from renting a primary dwelling and an accessory unit on the same property long-term. The property owner is required to live in one of the units if the other is rented. The proposal calls for, among other things, allowing a property owner to rent both on a long-term basis without having to live in one of them.

• The city commissioned a study of its short-term rental ordinance to assess, among other things, whether property owners are following the rules. A request for proposals recently issued by the city “for the implementation and administration” of the short-term rental ordinance raises the possibility that scores of property owners are out of compliance.

“There is a cap established for residential districts of a maximum of 1,000 [short-term rentals] and no limit in commercial districts,” documents state. “However, preliminary investigation suggests there are possibly up to 1,400 active [short-term rentals] within the city limits.”

The study, which will help city officials determine whether changes are necessary, is expected to be completed a week or so.

• The city will consider extending a fee approved in 2014 that allows developers of qualifying residential projects to pay in lieu of participating in the city’s affordable housing program. The fee, which was designed to jump-start multifamily construction in Santa Fe, included a sunset clause of Jan. 1, 2020.

Webber said it would be a mistake not to renew the fee, which he said has “really made a difference” in the lives of people across Santa Fe.

“We’re about a year out from sunset kicking in, and we need to send a signal to developers and people interested in housing alike that we are going to revisit it and see what worked, see how we can improve it and make it even more constructive,” he said.

• The city has a “very large portfolio of city-owned property all over Santa Fe,” and five or six city-owned lots could be poised for residential development in the future, Webber said.

“Getting those five or six sites into the hands of developers, we could see more housing built that is infill and meets the needs of those neighborhoods,” he said Friday, adding that the redevelopment of the former campus of College of Santa Fe and Santa Fe University of Art and Design is expected to include housing.

Webber described the various housing proposals as pieces of a puzzle.

“There’s no one piece of this agenda that will in itself fix our need for housing — and it’s not just housing we need,” he said Friday. “We need housing done in a way that reinforces livability and neighborhoods … and this package of five or so approaches is a way to have a multifaceted approach to building the housing we need in a way that fits Santa Fe’s future.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.