The National Association of Home Builders is not a left-wing organization. In the current midterm election alone, the trade association—a federation of over 800 state and local associations, totaling some 140,000 business owners, subcontractors, and more—has donated over six times as much to Republican congressional candidates compared to Democrats.
In this way, the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association is an anomaly, says outgoing Executive Director Kim Shanahan. That became clear about 10 years ago, when the local association's leadership handed out surveys to its 400-some members. The survey "confirmed everything I believed: that the demographics and dudes I've been working with out in the fields for years were pretty much like me"—progressive on issues like immigration, gay rights and affordable housing—"and not like who the [national] leadership was," Shanahan tells SFR over breakfast.
By the time Donald Trump ascended to the White House, the local association had already spent years laying a foundation working with Santa Fe's immigrant community. In March it held a know-your-rights workshop at its office on Camino Entrada for immigrants and their employers, and will have another on applying for citizenship.
According to Shanahan, there are dozens of legal permanent residents in Santa Fe who own home building businesses. It's a sea change from when he got his contractor's license in 1991, as immigrants have replaced the "aging white Baby Boomers" now retiring.
SFR spoke with Shanahan about local demographic change, affordable housing, and how a traditionally conservative institution came to be a critical part of the local resistance to the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policy.
SFR: What sort of changes have you witnessed to the home builders industry in Santa Fe over the last 30 years?
KS: Building a house is like making a movie. You have a writer who's like the architect, you have producer who's like the [home's] owner, the general contractor is the director. You have someone who comes out and does the concrete work, you also bring out some plumbers, then framing crews, after that someone puts in all the wiring, then the pipes. … Every one of them is a business with its own crews.
When I moved here 32 years ago, the Spanish-speaking guys that I saw were all workers in the dangerous trades like tar roofing. But the evolution of these last 30-some years, you see the higher-skilled crafts [like plumbing, electrical, and framing] began to have guys that spoke Spanish primarily. That evolved to the point where you see people who are legal permanent residents, or maybe they became citizens, and now they're general contractors and building million-dollar homes for very wealthy people, and they might have every single person from every single trade [be] a person whose first language is Spanish.
Has this change in reflected in the leadership of the local association?
The leadership of our organization is still, generally speaking, either aging Anglos or younger Anglos, or local Hispanic people. Not anybody born in Mexico or [who] speaks English as a second language. Within our association, we do have dozens of businesses who join because they receive members-only workers' compensation insurance.
Our tent is relatively wide for members, [but] we never found the model for what would work for Spanish speakers in a networking kind of phenomenon. I believe that has to change. We have to be an association that reflects the demography of our industry. And right now, it doesn't, [and] it probably won't until us aging boomers move on to other pastures.
How did Trump's election affect the homebuilder association's work with the immigrant community?
It stepped it up. In 2015 and 2016, back when we were still trying to have really clear and direct outreach to the Hispanic community, we hosted two fall fiestas. We didn't have one in 2017 or 2018, because we knew ICE could very well show up. And even if ICE didn't show up, they could. Everybody is like, 'No way I'm gonna go hang out with the home builders.' … So we stopped.
Since then, we've offered our space to [the Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Somos Un Pueblo Unido] for luncheons and workshops on what you need to know if ICE shows up at your job site. We're having another one on Oct. 11, on how to get yourself and your workers on a path to citizenship.
You've said you'll step down by the end of the year, and have stated an interest in working for affordable housing in Santa Fe.
I could be of more service outside [the association]; for instance, [with] the Santa Fe Housing Trust, which owns the balance of the Tierra Contenta subdivision on the Southside of town. The ability to get back into the game in Tierra Contenta and perhaps even figure out how it should go forward and how we can empower local businesses, plumbers and electricians [in guiding the subdivision's growth] is exciting to me.
You also have the whole Midtown LINC at the [former] Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and adjacent properties that are clearly where we could build a fair amount of multifamily housing. These are kinds of things I'm drawn to. Whether someone will pay what I need to get paid is another story. Maybe I'll just go to my cabin [in Cow Creek] and write my novel, pat my dog on the head, take some shots of bourbon.
In your view, what are some barriers to affordable housing?