When Santa Fe officials began discussing the upcoming fiscal year budget, much of the discussion centered on the city’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
On a more granular level, however, conversations swirled around what City Hall intended to do about a mounting affordable housing shortage that has overshadowed almost every other issue for the past decade.
In response, the city made a pledge to support its Affordable Housing Department at a level that Director Alexandra Ladd said she hasn’t experienced since returning to Santa Fe nearly a decade ago.
“This is by far the most engaged that the community as a whole has been with affordable housing,” Ladd said. “I think there is now a greater level [of] understanding of what it means.”
Ladd said she’s noticing a more “holistic” approach to the city’s affordable housing issues. Rather than simply finding ways to get people to buy affordable homes, city officials are working to provide more workforce housing across the housing ecosystem.
“When I first started this work 21 years ago, affordable housing was either a poor person’s problem or all about the firefighter, the nurse, the police officer, the teacher or that mythically pure citizen of our community buying a home,” Ladd said. “That was all we talked about.”
It’s a shift that Ladd thinks was amplified and expedited by the coronavirus pandemic, which put a brighter spotlight on supporting her department, especially as housing advocates warn of a potential eviction crisis when state and local eviction moratoriums expire.
One of the city’s biggest actions was boosting its Affordable Housing Trust Fund to $3 million next fiscal year.
The fund, which has been primarily financed through developer fees, helps spur housing development and provides rental and homeowner assistance to low-income renters and prospective homeowners.
In addition to Ladd, the Affordable Housing Department has a full-time contract administrator, a project specialist and a fiscal manager who splits time with the Economic Development Department.
The city will fund one additional worker to help the department with project management. Ladd also intends to hire another employee using money from a federal grant.
In all, the Affordable Housing Department’s budget will increase by around $4.7 million, or 155.5 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.
“This year, they are just throwing money at my office, at me, at my system, and it is amazing,” Ladd said. “It will be a little clunky. As good as a problem as it is to have, spending money in government can be hard. We want to be careful. We want to be able to spend it and prevent a maximum amount of people from being unhoused and to get the maximum amount of people housed.”
Ladd said there remains a lot of confusion in the community about what the department does and how the Affordable Housing Trust Fund works.
She said a common misconception is that the department acts as a government housing authority, building and operating government-owned rental properties for Santa Feans.
Ladd said it’s becoming increasingly clear across the county that government isn’t always the most well equipped to address every community need.
Instead of providing services directly through the department, which would take far more manpower than most government agencies can spare, Ladd said it’s more efficient to partner and support nonprofits that are already in the community doing the work.
The department uses its funding to support partnerships with nonprofits in the area and leverage the dollars in the trust fund by providing soft loans to help decrease the loan amount for prospective homeowners.
“We are able to leverage the impact of our funding because we have this great service provider network,” Ladd said. “It’s kind of a ripple effect. They are able to even further expand out based on the support of the city.
Lara Yoder, housing services program manager for The Life Link, said her nonprofit often receives referrals from the Affordable Housing Department.
Yoder said the department has been particularly open to what service providers are seeing on the ground, which helps the city keep tabs on the challenges of providing housing assistance.
“I think they have been really receptive to what nonprofits and other service providers have told them in regards to the need,” Yoder said. “I think this whole pandemic has gotten people within different agencies to understand how important the roles that all of us play in terms of keeping people housed.”
And the need is always changing.
While Ladd said she couldn’t necessarily predict how Santa Fe’s housing market would continue to morph, she said the department has to be poised to shift.
“We are always going to be responding to what is happening,” Ladd said. “When a new need emerges, we are always sort of in that position of what is now happening and how do we meet that new need.”