Santa Fe has a split personality when it comes to finding solutions to the lack of housing. That’s true whether finding shelter for people living on the streets, working families or middle-class professionals.
Most residents agree the city needs additional housing — the sort people who don’t have a fat trust fund or hefty pension can afford to rent or buy. After that basic agreement, consensus goes off the rails.
Some people call for building “affordable” housing but generally want such housing far away from their neighborhoods. Some critics use the concern — a valid one considering the enduring drought — about the water supply to call for an end to all building. Others say current development is killing the “soul” of Santa Fe and complain about increased traffic and demands on infrastructure.
But Santa Fe hasn’t been the Santa Fe of yore for decades, and change is not just a part of life but necessary to avoid stagnation. The key is to change with wisdom so that our city retains its character while meeting the needs of current generations.
What Santa Fe can be is this: a vibrant small city where young families can afford to raise their children and where those children, once grown, can remain in their hometown. That requires an additional housing supply, including for the most vulnerable of our neighbors — people living on the streets.
Solving the problem of homelessness is hardly unique to Santa Fe. Across the nation, more people lack housing, a result of job losses, low wages, increased housing costs, addiction, mental illness — challenges that add up to desperate circumstances for too many. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated more than half a million people in the U.S. are without shelter; in New Mexico, the numbers are more than 3,200. These are likely undercounts.
Locally, community leaders are committed to finding solutions — this, despite frequent criticism and opposition to policies that can relieve the crisis. Now, a community consortium wants to purchase the Lamplighter Inn on Cerrillos Road to turn it into affordable housing, including reserving about a quarter of its units for the homeless or would-be homeless without sufficient support. Eventually, the remade Lamplighter would have 58 permanent housing units.
Community health impact nonprofit Anchorum St. Vincent and the S3 (for safe, secure and stable) Working Group are putting the initiative together. The working group is made up of more than a dozen entities, all with a goal of eliminating homelessness. Partners include developer JL Gray, as well as Santa Fe County, the Interfaith Community Shelter, the state of New Mexico and The Life Link, which will provide behavioral health services.
The county is contributing $1.5 million to purchasing the Lamplighter, and the city of Santa Fe in January will consider adding $3 million from its Affordable Housing Trust Fund and American Rescue Plan funds. This will be a community effort, the second of its type recently. A year ago, with funds from the city of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Suites motel was purchased and converted it to affordable housing with 123 units; again about a quarter of the homes are reserved for people without shelter.
Much remains to be worked out with the Lamplighter purchase, including who will “own” the building once the deal is complete. The selection process for tenants has to be determined, and of course, actual redevelopment of the property finished.
This is a work in progress, much like our community’s overall effort to help people find homes they will love and can afford. But through collaboration and leadership, housing doesn’t have to be an unattainable dream. Converting motels, building apartments and constructing single-family homes — all are necessary.
It is fortunate that Santa Fe has leaders — in government, business and the nonprofit world — working to make our city a place where all people have a place to call home.