Pretty Much Official

Santa Fe City Council cements final steps in handing over cash and land to Siler development for artist housing

Art panels line the chain-link fence of the property on Siler Road where a project offering affordable housing for artists expects to break ground in 2020.

For the past five years, Santa Fe has skeptically waited for the vision of an affordable, sustainably built, solar-powered, community and arts oriented development on Siler Road to become a reality.

On Wednesday, the City Council finally sealed its part of the bargain by approving the transfer of deed for land the project will occupy, and construction is expected to start in early 2020.

"I look forward to what that Siler/Rufina Road area still has in store for the future," Councilor Chris Rivera said at the meeting, congratulating the people behind the project for their tenacity.

The idea behind the Siler Yard: Arts+Creativity Center—to provide 65 affordable live/work rental housing to households that earn no more than 60% of the area median income as well as offering retail and studio space and a shared maker space to artists and entrepreneurs—was first proposed in 2014.

The project faced numerous setbacks, including promises of state tax credits and local funding offered and then withdrawn on more than one occasion and local city officials getting cold feet when faced with various aspects of the design.

But 2019 has proven to be the year when everything finally came together.

In February, the City Council re-committed $2.1 million to the nearly $17 million project. The contribution included a piece of land valued at $1.3 million at the site of the city's former sewer treatment facility off Siler Road.

Riding the momentum of this small win,  New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing—the group serving as the lead developer on the project—applied for $10.4 million in federal low-income housing tax credits from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.  New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing had applied for the funds and been turned down twice before but were finally awarded a grant for the money in May.

On Wednesday, City Council voted unanimously to finalize the agreement and warranty deed on the land and the $400,000 promised for infrastructure improvements.

Now the project is pretty much official, and Daniel Werwath, the chief operating officer of New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing, says it's on track to break ground in February 2020. Managers could start leasing units as early as November next year.

"It's a lot of money, it's taken a long time to get here, I'm sure everybody wishes that it could have happened sooner, but they persevered," Councilor Mike Harris said at the meeting.

But Harris also noted that the city has put in $37,892 per unit "by way of fees, value of the land, relocation, and cash contributions."

"I'll certainly be voting for this, but the question is how many of these [projects] can we do the answer is not many," Harris said.

For Werwath, the last few months have been a whirlwind of ecstatic activity finalizing architectural plans and funding, with just $400,000 in funds for solar panels left to go.

But Werwath is already looking ahead to building the resident services that are crucial to his vision such as a community maker space, business coaching, a gardening program.

“We want to offer things that are not just about the social services side, but are also about quality of life and community building activities,” he says.

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