Here's an email I never hoped to see in my inbox: Santa Fe Real Estate is now following you on Twitter!

Aren't Santa Feans already stalked enough by the specter of real estate around here?

Housing sales may have been slow in Santa Fe this past year, but real estate is booming as a top, if tired, topic of conversation and, as it happens, an eyesore. Although Santa Fe wasn't hit as hard by the foreclosure tsunami as the rest of the country, foreclosures were steady throughout 2009. And signs for the 2,625 houses for sale (as of Dec. 9) fog the landscape like neighborhood cataracts. There are thousands more if one counts commercial listings, ranch properties, empty lots and "for sale by owner" signs.

Desperate times call for desperate measures—how else to explain the questionable (and ultimately unsuccessful) auction/gimmick of the Zocalo condos?

But even as thousands of homes sit empty, thousands of Santa Fe professionals continue to buy less costly houses in places like Rio Rancho and Bernalillo. Last year, the nonprofit affordable housing corporation Homewise reckoned the economic loss of people working in Santa Fe but living elsewhere to be more than $300 million annually.

That's a problem the City of Santa Fe takes seriously, according to Director of Housing and Community Development Kathy McCormick. The Santa Fe City Council this year approved a master plan for development of land it owns in the so-called Northwest Quadrant. The mixed-income, mixed-use development will eventually provide hundreds of affordable homes located close to downtown Santa Fe, but that can't be built until the economy improves. McCormick hopes to consider shopping for a developer by the end of 2010. "It would be premature to bring the project forward now," she says.

McCormick says another victory in 2009 for affordable housing was the city's success in working with The Housing Trust and Homewise to place families in existing houses—often foreclosures purchased at low prices that can be passed on to new buyers.
But, McCormick says, a lot more could have been accomplished in the coming year if voters had approved a real estate transfer tax for homes costing more than $700,000.

The Santa Fe Association of Realtors leveraged support from the National Association of Realtors and the Realtors Association of New Mexico to create what it called a "grassroots" campaign to defeat the proposed tax in March. Others say it was dirty politics backed by big money.

"I think the campaign the real estate community ran was not at all truthful or accurate," McCormick says. "It was very misleading. It hurt this community and furthered the divisiveness that we have in Santa Fe. It was, frankly, just nasty."

SFAR Chief Executive Officer Donna Reynolds says voters saved the city a lawsuit.

"The City of Santa Fe is pre-empted by state law from levying a local option real estate transfer tax," Reynolds writes in an email to SFR. "If any municipality, including the City of Santa Fe, should try to circumvent this law through the use of state excise tax laws to advance a similar tax, they will face legal challenges."

However, affordable housing options may soon improve in Santa Fe County. Architect and planner Suby Bowden was contracted in 2008 and 2009 to lead a team that created a strategic plan for affordable housing in the county. That plan was officially adopted by the Board of County Commissioners in December of 2009 and has been approved by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

"It's a comprehensive, county-wide plan," Bowden says. "It will go into implementation in 2010 and, among other things, mandates parallel efforts between the city and the county."

Bowden acknowledges the current rancor between affordable housing advocates and SFAR, but says hope may be on the horizon. The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties may sound like an unlikely mediator in such a conflict, but the organization has become a national leader in progressive and responsible development. The local chapter, Bowden says, has established a task force to bring all stakeholders to the table and iron out practical solutions.

Reynolds offers a somewhat qualified statement about SFAR's participation: "The association would seek the involvement of NAIOP along with many other stakeholders and elected officials in working toward consensus on workforce housing policy options."