People who have lost income and become housing insecure because of COVID-19 could find an affordable place to live at Santa Fe Suites, a hotel off of St. Francis Drive that will soon be transformed into 122 affordable studio apartments with the help of Santa Fe's CARES Act dollars.

City Councilors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve an agreement to purchase the property with co-developer Community Solutions Group.

The city will contribute $2 million from its share of CARES Act funds to the project, and Community Solutions will kick in about $6 million.

"This is a major first step for us to take to end housing instability in Santa Fe," said the Santa Fe Homes Program Director Alexandra Ladd at Wednesday's council meeting.

Around a third of the units will be set aside for members of the workforce whose income is reduced because of the pandemic and are currently struggling to make their rental payments.

Another third of the units in the project will be reserved for low-income people who faced numerous barriers to secure housing in Santa Fe even before the pandemic. These people might have trouble renting elsewhere because they have a criminal record, rely on housing vouchers, or have failed to pay back a car loan, said Ladd.

The remaining units will be used to help people transition out of homelessness. This will include at least a handful of homeless individuals who are currently living at the city's emergency shelter at Midtown Campus.

Rents at Santa Fe Suites will range from $500 to $840 a month.

This project stands out from other affordable housing projects in the city, said Ladd, because Community Solutions will provide supportive property management and wraparound social services to all residents to make sure they stay on a positive trajectory. There will also be room in the complex for local community groups to bring other services on-site.

Ladd said Santa Fe Suites is an ideal location for this kind of project because it is close to schools, transit lines and a grocery store, and that the current owner  "is motivated to sell his property so that it can be used in this way."

The current owner of Santa Fe Suites approves turning the property into affordable housing.
The current owner of Santa Fe Suites approves turning the property into affordable housing. | Leah Cantor

According to Ladd, rental payments from tenants will be enough to keep up maintenance of the property going forward.

"This is a way to do something new that we haven't tried before and the way its structured this will pay for itself so it will not require ongoing support from the city," she said, adding that if it works, this could serve as a new model for more affordable housing projects down the line.

The city has moved quickly to get the proposal rolling—CARES Act funds must be put to use before Dec. 30, which means that the city must find COVID-impacted tenants to occupy the property by that date.

While all council members ultimately voted in favor of the agreement with Community Solutions Group, the speed with which the proposal navigated the bureaucratic process riled some councilors.

Councilors Michael Garcia and Carol Romero-Wirth—who represent the District 2 where Santa Fe Suites is located—both raised concerns that the city had not arranged any public meetings about the project.

Because Community Solutions will be the official owner of the property, the city was not required to hold public meetings. But Garcia and Romero-Wirth said they have received numerous communications from neighborhood residents with classic NIMBY concerns. Among them were that the city would turn the hotel into a new homeless shelter that could bring unsafe people to the neighborhood, and that it could lower surrounding property values.

"We should be proactive in notifying the community…I think that's our duty as the city government," said Garcia said.

Ladd replied, "It's also the city's job to keep people off the streets."

She says the city estimates a minimum of 350 households in Santa Fe currently do not have a place to live and are staying in shelters or motels, or crashing with family or friends. A new CONNECT program fund to provide financial relief to families that lost income but did not qualify for stimulus checks or unemployment benefits earlier this year or who are behind on rental payments has received 275 applications in just three days.

Ladd assured the council that projects similar to Santa Fe Suites in other cities such as Aurora, Colorado, and Washington, DC, did not lower property values and actually raised values in some cases because the similar projects were so well maintained and managed.

She also emphasized that Santa Fe Suites will offer long-term housing and is "not another homeless shelter."