Last week’s column introduced proposed changes to the Santa Fe Homes Program, the rules that define affordable housing requirements on new developments — specifically, multifamily rental projects with more than 15 units. Drafted by Alexandra Ladd, the city of Santa Fe’s interim economic development director and head of the Office of Affordable Housing, the plan is a good one.
With one notable exception: The ramp-up time for doubling the “fee in lieu,” which developers may choose to pay to avoid adhering to the ordinance.
There’s a review process before it gets to the City Council — Oct. 30 at the earliest. Five bodies will discuss it first, with two comprising citizens and chaired by a councilor.
Then it’s on to the Planning Commission (all citizens) followed by the City Council’s Finance Committee and Public Works Committee. All are open to the public; some will even allow public comment.
The plan is laudable because it offers more options for compliance than just a fee in lieu. It also makes that option permanent, with no sunset — unlike the program in place now that expires at the end of the year.
Doubling the fee is not unexpected, and the plan does offer a phase-in period, but the period is too quick.
As written, a development without a vertical construction building permit in hand by year’s end would pay 25 percent more if the permit is picked up and paid between January to July 2020, then 50 percent more until the end of the year.
In essence, the grandfathering of more than 1,000 approvals set to have entitlements vanishes in December. It incentivizes developers to get in while the getting is still good.
Good for them, they get a bit of a reprieve. But what about development projects sitting on the sidelines for more than a year waiting to see which way the city’s wind might be blowing? Rumblings from neighborhood activists, and even some planning commissioners, have been public and adamant.
They advocate eliminating options altogether and “forcing” developers to weave 15 percent subsidized units into all multifamily rentals — a policy pursued from 2005 until 2015 that resulted in no market-rate apartment projects built with 15 percent set-asides.
A few hundred units were built by the Housing Trust and Housing Authority in that time span, but by nonprofit developers and heavily subsidized for very low-income renters.
With the draft’s aggressive timeline, any developers starting the application process today could be assured of paying double because the process of getting all the approvals necessary simply cannot be done in one year. Even two years is ridiculously fast for Santa Fe, but at least it is feasible, and the Land Use Department is pledging speed and efficiency with its new 21st-century systems coming online.
It’s possible the proposed timeline ramp-up could change. Let’s hope so.
Another aspect of the expiring plan also needs changing — the idea that a fee in lieu gets paid when the city decides the vertical plan review is complete and plans are ready for pickup. The trigger for securing a fee within a time frame must be when paying to submit a vertical plan for review — not at pickup.
That is how all deadlines, like periodic changes to codes, have always worked. Otherwise the city could be accused of slow-walking a permit review to get a few more bucks in the till.
The public process of reviewing and recommending changes to the draft ordinance starts Wednesday with the Community Development Commission, followed by Economic Development Advisory Committee on Sept. 11. Both will be held at city offices at Market Street Station. Sensible affordable housing options deserve support.
Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.