Ed Romero, head of the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority, has a big problem, and it’s not one of his hundreds of residents with a complaint big enough to get the attention of a newspaper columnist.
In fact, it’s a problem defying one of Santa Fe’s fixed housing assumptions. He’s got brand-spanking-new apartments and no renters to fill them.
The Via Consuelo neighborhood, just off Cerrillos Road and Camino Consuelo, has been around since 1971. The apartments Romero is trying to fill are still called Via Consuelo. They’re in the same single-story shells as the originals, but they are basically brand-new one-bedroom apartments.
There’s 100 of them, and they are really nice. Before you start calling to reserve one, there’s a catch. They are reserved for baby boomers, seniors and those likely trying to live on Social Security.
You’d think brand-new subsidized rentals for individuals with incomes between $11,000 and $26,000 would have a waiting list a couple of years long. And, unfortunately, if you were a young, single mom with a couple of kids, it would be that long, as are the vast majority of the apartments under Romero’s management.
Via Consuelo is restricted to those 62 and older with fixed incomes. Finding those renters under deadlines set by Romero’s investors is short — 30 new renters in the next 30 days and then 20 more 30 days after that.
New apartments for seniors who need them is an easy ask. But these aren’t just any apartments.
Romero decided long ago all of his projects would have maximum sustainability. That means LEED Platinum designations — the industry’s best, solar panels on roofs, community gathering spaces, walkability to essential services and easy access to reliable public transportation.
They also employ design principles for aging in place. That means things like lever door handles, easy-control sink faucets, grab bars in bathrooms, wide doorways, turning-radius spaces in kitchens and baths, low door thresholds and smooth flooring. They’re all designed for easy adaptability to full-blown ADA compliance for wheelchair-bound residents.
It’s easy to imagine these cutting-edge sustainability principles are the housing authority’s basic specification because Romero drank the Santa Fe green-building Kool-Aid. Well, maybe, but he got there because of the hard reality of being a money-chaser where the object of the pursuit, the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, partly grades and rewards applicants from its pot of money based on maximum sustainability.
In this case, $15 million or around $150,000 per unit.
When Romero has to compete against other housing authorities in the state, most with dramatically lower construction costs that score better on applications, his sustainability inclinations become an edge that can be used to Santa Fe’s advantage.
Many of his residents pay for some utilities, so keeping those bills as low as possible helps residents whose every monthly dollar is accounted for.
Getting these townhomes remodeled in the face of COVID-19 and labor shortages — then suffering an arsonist in July who burned a 12-unit block down to the slab — has pushed the project past its expected completion date of November 2020. Thus, the urgency in finishing and getting leased to deserving new residents.
As the contractor who remodeled the old Vermejo Park apartments to become the San Mateo Condominiums, also built in 1971, I know the bones of these old buildings are good. Because of asbestos, they were gutted to the studs. They are brand-new homes in a mature neighborhood for mature neighbors.
Swing by the leasing office on Camino Consuelo and check out them out. You’ll be impressed.