Community groups form Housing Action Coalition

New organization targets 'advocacy gap'

Back in the '60s and '70s, the term supergroup gained popularity describing amalgamated rock bands like Cream, Bad Company, Asia and even Journey (yep). Some offered quick-hit, radio-friendly music that was forgotten with the turn of a calendar. Others had lasting influence.

The Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition is hoping to become the latter type.

"It really seems like there's an advocacy gap," the group's director and co-founder Jennifer Billig tells SFR of her pitch to community leaders. "Everybody's on the same page in terms of a lot of the things that need to happen policy-wise, but there was no one to advocate for these things to happen."

The Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and New Mexico Inter-faith Housing started early discussions about some sort of coalition last fall, Billig says. Their group grew to include almost 20 organizations in all.

The coalition isn't focusing only on affordable housing, though that's an important component, Billig adds.

"The term affordable housing—I wish we didn't have to use it because it's vexing to us. [The city of Santa Fe] is talking about housing for 120 percent of area median income," she explains. "People tend to think of affordable housing as being for very low-income people. But we also need housing for people in all sorts of professions."

In Santa Fe, based on the median income for a family of four (which is a common figure used by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine qualifications for housing assistance), 120 percent of that mark would be families earning a living in the $86,000 range.

The coalition pegs Santa Fe's rental market shortage at somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 units, based on previous studies by the city and county, as well as private research by industry professionals.

"Santa Fe has this really strong and vibrant history of being a diverse multicultural community. And we're really in danger of losing that right now, because young people and people of color are getting pushed to the edges of the city or out of the city altogether," says Billig, who is a relatively recent transplant to Santa Fe, but who, along with the coalition members, has keyed on the city's evident cultural, social and economic divide. "We really want to surface that reality. … That is what's at stake in these conversations about housing."

Many of the coalition's members have recent roots in Mayor Alan Webber's housing policy task force, which Billig says just had its final meeting.

The group wants to be a clear, consistent voice that points policymakers back to a few core ideas, including a realistic revisit to inclusionary zoning rules that will encourage income-appropriate development, more readily apparent parcels of land or areas of the city for infill projects, a consistent funding stream of $3 million a year for the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the approval of accessory dwelling units for private homes.

Right now, Billig says much of the coalition's work will be focused on community engagement, and seeking underrepresented parts of Santa Fe's living and working population and asking them what might best meet their needs.

"There are people who work here who want to live here," she says. "There are a whole lot of people who aren't currently in the conversation."

The coalition expects to constantly highlight the link between housing and overall community health, including education, economic development and public safety.

"Those things are all interrelated," Billig says. "It doesn't matter if we're creating jobs if we don't have homes for people to live in."

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