A big story broke a couple of weeks ago that got little notice, given its potential impact on affordable homeownership in Santa Fe.

Tierra Contenta’s last phase of development was approved by the City Council.

Phase 3A, the remaining lands from the original 1995 master plan (except for a major parcel owned by the New Mexico School for the Deaf), finally gets moving after a decade of dormancy.

Those who’ve never been to the south-side neighborhood, or moved here since 2008, likely have no idea the scope and vision of the original master plan. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University showered praise and awards on it for its forward thinking.

National experts with strong ties to Santa Fe authored its vision and helped establish the independent nonprofit development company to oversee divvying the land and adherence to principles. They helped secure backing and financing and worked with Mayor Debbie Jaramillo’s administration for full city support.

They spoke of a desire to foster development patterns in years what had taken the east side and South Capitol area decades to become. The side streets were narrower and twisty; backyard alleys were encouraged. Affordable housing was set at 40 percent with a band of qualifying income 50 percent to 80 percent of area median income.

They aspired to nominal sustainability, an infant concept in the early ’90s. What they didn’t know then was how critical maximum water and energy conservation would become. Selling this to the Santa Fe public will take more than 40 percent affordability. It will take using the least amount of water possible, going even further than our already nation-leading conservation codes.

The city and the new administration have a stake in making that happen.

Connecting the loop of the two legs of Paseo del Sol and tying in the associated spine utility infrastructure in today’s dollars is probably north of $12 million. The city can backstop an industrial revenue-type bond, as it has done with other projects — paid back by builders and developers, not taxpayers. With that city gift to the Tierra Contenta Corp., the city can ask for more. And get it.

It’s more than being a sustainability bully. Though certain deep conservation requirements like water harvesting and reuse, or microgrids powered by rooftop and community solar, certainly will add to costs, the ability to market and upsell Tierra Contenta as a beacon of sustainability will pay for itself.

Deep subsidies must be found to ensure affordable housing meets the same high standards. It’s also likely the price spread between maximum market-rate homes and 40 percent affordable is bound to be wider than existing Tierra Contenta.

Homewise, for instance, Santa Fe’s premier affordable housing development nonprofit, builds and sells homes from the $200,000 range to near $1 million.

Families earning 50 percent to 65 percent of Santa Fe median income, the lowest required price tier, can only afford homes under $200,000. A 1,200-square-foot home costing $200 per foot to build (maybe), not counting land and infrastructure, is an untenable money-loser for a developer/builder. Except for Habitat for Humanity.

The projections are that 5 percent of the expected 1,200 homes in Phase 3A must be delivered under $200,000. That’s 60 lots nobody wants. Except Habitat. With its zero-interest, 30-year mortgages, volunteer labor and 500 hours of homeowner sweat equity, Habitat alone can get it done. Especially with donated lots earning developers affordable housing tax credits.

It also slips the money-losing hook off the developers’ necks.

Net-zero energy and maximum water conservation in super-affordable homes? That’s Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity’s standard right now. Market-rate homes can step it up.

Kim Shanahan has been a Santa Fe green builder since 1986 and a sustainability consultant since 2019. Contact him at shanafe@aol.com.

(3) comments

Ricann Bock

This is fantastic! Is it a done deal? Should we start making donations to Habitat?

Henry R.

Thank you to Mayor Debbie Jaramillo and her administration. No other mayor since, has done much for affordable housing in Santa Fe and that was 26 years ago.

Lynn k Allen

Old flames from candles made decades ago now shine light brightly.

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