Jennifer Johnson moved into her Ft. Marcy Heights neighborhood off Bishops Lodge and Hyde Park roads in 2000. She no longer sees as many familiar faces.
“The number of neighbors who are there full-time has reduced dramatically,” she tells SFR. “Let’s see … one, two, three, four homes that were Santa Feans before have been converted into condos,” each of which has at least three units.
For safety and presumably to welcome guests, the short-term rental across the street has its front porch light on all night. But it's starting to feel kind of lonely to Johnson.
So on March 14, Johnson spoke in public about Santa Fe's housing situation and the impact of second homes and short-term rentals.
"It's not helping the day-to-day New Mexicans that need a place to live," she told the City Council. "In my immediate neighborhood, there's nobody there to fight for our neighborhood."
An SFR check of ownership records shows that of the 10 properties on the two split lots closest to Johnson, only one can be definitively traced to a Santa Fe owner. A South Carolina owner has the vacation rental outside Johnson's front door. Other owners are in Arizona, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia and Washington, DC.
Of the 973 short-term rental permits issued by the city so far this year, 436 were issued to out-of-state owners. That's 45 percent. The vast majority are clustered in and around Santa Fe's downtown.
A 2016 change to city law brought illegal short-term rentals into compliance and created a tax base for the city that will pull in well more than $1 million this fiscal year. It also nearly tripled the allowable number of vacation rentals.
At the city's Land Use Department, planner Noah Berke says it might be tempting to blame the lack of long-term housing downtown for Santa Feans on these revolving doors, but he doesn't see the math as being that straightforward.
"It's hard to pinpoint what short-term rentals are doing to the market for long-term rentals," Berke says. Not every short-term rental would be available for locals if it weren't on the market for tourists. Some would sit vacant until owners were able to use them. "There are certainly a number of second homes that aren't being used for either short-term or long-term rentals. … They just sit there."
City Councilor Renee Villarreal represents District 1, which includes most of downtown and the city's north side. She feels as though out-of-state, or at least out-of-town ownership has been a problem for three decades or more, guessing that living patterns started to change in the 1980s. That was when the city should have stepped in more aggressively.
Both Berke and Villarreal point out that short-term rentals have in some cases been an economic life raft for families that were being squeezed by rising taxes, the cost of maintaining older, often historic, homes and the pressure to sell their houses.
Plus, the councilor points out, short-term tenants most often don't enter into the social fabric of Santa Fe neighborhoods.
"I think it's vital that we keep the integrity of our neighborhoods together," she told the council, "because we're the ones who vote, we're the ones here who are putting in the time to try to make the city better."