By next March, the Santa Fe City Council plans to borrow $840,000 to buy 15 acres of undeveloped hillside in the area from Santa Fe Public Schools.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on the land purchase last weekend, focusing on whether the Council violated open meeting law when it struck the deal.
But the city also is bending its own affordable-housing rules.
As part of the sale agreement, the city will let the school district develop 15 new homes on a separate 25 acres off of Buckman Road, near the Frank Ortiz Dog Park. City leaders have agreed “no affordable housing requirements will be imposed” on that development.
The city requires new housing developments to set aside at least 30 percent of the units for sale to families earning under $64,000 a year.
So instead of building five affordable homes and 10 market-rate homes on the site, the school district can make all the new homes market rate. The affordable homes may be built elsewhere in the planned 750-unit Northwest Quadrant subdivision—but they won’t be the district’s responsibility.
“I don’t see why we would let the schools off the hook,” City Councilor Patti Bushee says.
Bushee, along with Councilor Miguel Chavez, opposes the transaction. Chavez characterizes the purchase as evidence of the “unraveling” of the city’s effort to masterplan and develop the area in conjunction with the school district.
The two councilors also wonder: Why proceed with this sale when the city may be $5 to $6 million in the hole next year? “I haven’t had anyone give me a good answer,” Bushee says. “Other than an unstated fear that the school district would hold up the Northwest Quadrant [development].”
Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education Member Frank Montaño seems to confirm that fear when he says the city was asked to buy the district’s land in order “to make [the development] work”—implying that if the city didn’t buy the land, the district would stall the plan.
Affordable housing advocates Mike Loftin of Homewise and Daniel Werwath of the Santa Fe Community Housing Trust tell SFR they know few details on the city’s deal with the district as it impacts affordable housing.
Whatever district officials told city leaders in private, you can’t call it extortion: At $56,000 an acre, the city will pay less than half as much per acre of land than nearby property owners. “That’s a pretty good deal,” Chavez concedes.
And the land to be developed has some of Santa Fe’s prettier vistas, which could make the planned 15 new homes there salable down the road.
But School Board Member Mary Ellen Gonzales says any profit from the development is four or five years in the future. (The $840,000 from the city, however, will come before the district finishes its annual budget in the spring.)
And of course, given the nationwide housing bust, Gonzales can’t predict how much the district might stand to gain on property or how any proceeds would be spent.
“My crystal ball is a little cloudy at the moment,” she says.