SFR: What compelled you to want to direct Santa Fe’s Home Builders Association?
KS: I’ve been in construction in Santa Fe for 22 years. I like to say that construction left me; I didn’t leave construction. The current downturn in our market had a huge impact in my availability to tackle this challenge. The board of directors, I think, felt that it was time for a change and when the previous executive officer stepped down, I saw an opportunity to pursue the things that I am passionate about full time.
What is the association?
We’re a 700-plus-member trade association—builders, subcontractors and associates—who market products to [builders]. We represent the construction industry, so we have a kind of lobbying aspect to what we do. We represent all of northern New Mexico except for the Farmington area. Albuquerque’s association has about 1,200 members, but their market is 10 times our size. Unfortunately, with this economy and the real estate market, there’s attrition in our enrollment, which is true of the nationwide organization, and a lot of folks are getting out of the construction business.
People often talk about how Santa Fe doesn’t feel the pinch as much as the rest of the country.
In construction, we are feeling the sting. A lot of our builders are smaller-volume builders, dependent on one contract at a time. The credit freeze has had a devastating effect on us. It stopped the subdivision I was on in its tracks. If you’re a builder who has a contract right now, you’re doing great. But if you’re about to finish up a contract, odds are you don’t have another one. Whoever you thought you were going to be working for can’t get a loan. Some of our larger local builders are hurting too. Building permits are in sharp decline. But that means we will probably burn through unsold inventory relatively quickly and, when credit opens up again, we’ll likely see a pent-up flurry of construction.
And the association is now committed to having that new construction be green?
Yes. It’s really a sea change. Ten years ago, there was a movement in town to develop green-building codes, but there was also a sense that it was premature, that we weren’t really ready to codify such things yet. The idea was to create a voluntary guideline that would be available for people who wanted to take advantage of it. The HBA kind of took over the role of writing the guidelines, though, at the time, we were seen as the real fringe and we were kind of shunted off to the side and it didn’t really go anywhere.
But now the city wants actual codes, so we’re finally ready. I’m the interim EO right now, but I’m bucking for the job, and I don’t hide that I have an agenda that green building is front and center. The national HBA still believes that all green-building practices should be voluntary. Here, the city is moving forward with mandatory programs whether we like it or not, and I think we should be at the forefront and take a participatory role in how we look at our specific climate and needs, both in terms of energy and economic viability. We need to make sure that whatever is adopted works for builders.
How does the Green Building Summit speak to the needs of builders?
There are two components, one of which is an expo full of vendors and non-profits and green-building specialists. This is open to the public for three days for people to come and see what’s available in the community. Then there’s the professional-track summit, where we’re getting all the relevant professions—the builders, realtors, appraisers, bankers, etc.—under one roof. The summit is going to culminate with a discussion of how we can move, on a practical level, toward realizing the green values that many of us share.
And what are the practical concerns?
Right now we have no objective measure for determining the value for what we do when we build green. We need to understand how achieving a certain level of energy efficiency, air quality, use of resources—all of these things equate to a dollar-per-square-foot value and the real fulcrum point is local banks agreeing to that value. The banks will assure the appraisers and the appraisers will assure the realtors and the realtors can explain it to the home buyers. How to appraise green features is a hot topic nationwide and I think we’ll be at the front of that dialogue here in Santa Fe. The other thing is to recognize construction as a green-collar industry. The built environment is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the car and transportation sectors combined. We need to eliminate that and retrain the way we build homes. And changing the paradigm of how the industry is perceived—alongside with how it is practiced—is key.
How do you get everyone on board with something like that?
One thing we’ve recently done is to really solidify our relationship with Habitat for Humanity. As an adjunct to the summit, we have a demonstration home on property leased to Habitat by the city at the corner of Gomez and Paseo de Peralta. We’re pushing the boundary of what Habitat normally does and saying, ‘This is the way we need to go in the future.’ And it shows our fellow builders—who need to buy into new, green-building codes—that it’s not that difficult. Also we demonstrate to city officials that the codes can be done at an affordable level, on an infill lot, in the historic district. All these things that we think are impossible are not—they absolutely can be done.