As the city of Santa Fe plans for development of the midtown campus, a coalition of organizations is advocating for the study of a model the group says would result in “permanently affordable housing” at the site and limit gentrification in surrounding neighborhoods.
A report the coalition released Wednesday recommends the city consider creating a community land trust at the former college campus on St. Michael’s Drive “and other forms of collective stewardship to help stabilize housing in Santa Fe.”
The City Council in May voted to begin negotiations with Dallas-based KDC Real Estate Development & Investments/Cienda Partners for what is expected to be a yearslong redevelopment project at the 64-acre property.
KDC/Cienda is working with 17 New Mexico partners, most from Santa Fe, on creating plans for the site that include an expansion of film studios, educational facilities, a health clinic and affordable housing.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber has said the affordable housing component is critical at the campus, though details for how much housing will be built at the site — and how many units will be offered below market rates — will be part of negotiations throughout the year.
The new report, written by the economic and social justice organization Chainbreaker Collective in collaboration with the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership and California-based Human Impact Partners, encourages the city to consider the land trust model to ensure lower-cost housing constructed at the campus — and even off-campus areas nearby — remains affordable for years to come.
“The areas surrounding the midtown campus are some of the most densely populated by people of color and low-income people in Santa Fe,” the report says. “Some of these neighborhoods, such as Hopewell/Mann, also have a history of disinvestment, leaving them vulnerable to displacement and health risks from gentrification.”
The report describes a community land trust as an organization — often a nonprofit — that provides stewardship over tracts of land with the intent of making housing and community needs accessible to low- and moderate-income families.
After an individual or family buys a home that’s part of a residential land trust, the report says, the homeowner leases the land from the trust, often under a 99-year renewable lease. “If the homeowner wants to sell the home, they agree to sell at an affordable price to pay it forward.”
A community land trust believed to be the first was founded in Georgia in 1969. It was developed to provide farmland for Black families who were forced from their land for participating in the civil rights movement, according to the report.
New Mexico also has experience with a land trust model.
Albuquerque is home to the nationally recognized Sawmill Community Land Trust, which “offers affordable homes and apartments, commercial spaces for small business owners, and resources for the community right here in New Mexico,” the report says.
Tomás Rivera, director of the Santa Fe-based Chainbreaker Collective, said community outreach spearheaded by his organization and others last summer revealed residents’ top priority is maintaining community control over the midtown property, as well as the development process. He said a community land trust is “probably the best way of doing it.”
“Our top concern here is making sure that the surrounding neighborhoods are protected against displacement,” he said, referring to gentrification.
“There could be some sort of model in which we look at using the property itself to help fund some development or acquisition of land in the surrounding neighborhoods and use those as land trusts,” he said.
The report asks the city to explore the possibility of such a model, he added. “We’re not really handing this report and saying, ‘This is what should happen on the entire campus.’ We’re saying, ‘This should be part of the conversation.’ ”
The city created an emergency shelter on the midtown property in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to help prevent the virus’s spread among members of the homeless community and others who needed a place to isolate. The 14-page report released Wednesday recommends the city continue to provide supportive services there.
In its so-called request for expressions of interest in the midtown property, the city said it was open to land-use models or other forms of ownership “to achieve the public’s equitable and sustainable development goals,” Kristine Mihelcic, the city’s council and constituent services director, said in an email.
While no land trust models were proposed, Mihelcic said such a concept will be considered as the proposed redevelopment moves forward.
The city will “always have a commitment to any ownership models that ensure affordability and stability for Santa Fe communities most at risk of displacement,” she wrote.
Alexandra Ladd, director of the city’s Office of Affordable Housing, said in an email community land trusts are becoming more of a viable option in the housing market. She cited advantages noted in the new report, such as perpetual affordability and community control.
“There are some challenges, however, including the need for long-term stewardship of the trust,” Ladd wrote. “Trusts are typically managed via a nonprofit, collaborative ownership structure that requires a fairly high level of sophistication and durability in order to manage the assets in perpetuity.”
Ladd also said the midtown campus is a “complex project” where market-rate uses will have to generate enough revenue to support or subsidize public uses.
“I think it would be a tough place to use exclusively a land trust development model,” she wrote. “The Sawmill Land Trust in [Albuquerque] has figured it out but also shown that it takes a long time to create the capacity to be financially sustainable.”
Currently, she said, Santa Fe doesn’t have an organization that could develop housing and other facilities at the midtown campus and manage a land trust.
Ladd said she would be interested in figuring out how the city could support the conversion of existing properties, such as subsidized rental complexes, into co-op ownership.