Mayor Alan Webber wants the city to allocate $1.8 million in gross receipts tax revenues to its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, he announced at a press conference Monday.
The money, which would be earmarked for the fund if the City Council adopts a resolution, would help the city continue its COVID-19 emergency housing response with efforts such as its eviction and mortgage foreclosure prevention, and could also go toward capital investments in new affordable housing projects.
Webber said the city's economic outlook is improving much faster than expected, meaning it's possible to spend extra money on housing now.
"It's very gratifying that we are in a position to make it happen at a time when as we come out of COVID, when it couldn't be more important and more significant to the people of Santa Fe," said Webber. "It's a game changer."
In addition, the mayor said he plans on pushing to increase staffing for the Office of Affordable Housing and the Land Use Department during the next budget cycle, increasing both departments' capacity for long-range planning.
City Councilors Carol Romero-Wirth and Signe Lindell appeared with Webber at the press conference and both spoke to the importance of putting money behind housing as a top priority.
"It helps us understand how we are actually going to deliver on our commitment in this area," said Romero-Wirth, acknowledging that getting more money into the trust fund was one of her campaign promises.
Romero-Wirth says she also plans to introduce a resolution in a Finance Committee Meeting tonight that would instruct officials to create a plan for future funding.
Lindell expressed excitement that the city is taking a more direct approach.
"What it took was…identifying the issues that we are facing and not sticking our head in the sand anymore, and dealing with them," she said.
Lindell, Romero-Wirth and Webber are all up for reelection in November, and all three promised to address affordable housing in their previous campaigns for office.
Housing advocates have long implored the city to put $3 million a year towards affordable housing.
In 2018, the mayor convened a task force to recommend solutions that could help make housing more affordable. As Webber pointed out, the city has already tackled a number of the recommendations, such as increasing options for constructing and renting out accessory dwelling units, and enforcing the city's short-term rental laws.
However, the group identified funding the affordable housing trust fund as the solution that could have the most impact.
Webber says the new one-time allocation will get the fund up to the $3 million baseline, adding to the $1.4 million the fund generated from fees in the past year due to a spike in construction.
Mike Loftin, chief executive officer at Homewise, emphasized that the affordable housing trust fund offers much more flexibility than any other funding source and can be used for any purpose as the city sees fit, from helping house the homeless to providing emergency housing vouchers for people fleeing domestic abuse to helping first time homeowners make a down payment.
"The housing trust fund is the one thing that can address the whole spectrum of housing needs," he said.
The trust fund is also designed to bring in millions more in outside funding. To be eligible for city housing funds, new projects must secure other sources of cash first, said Affordable Housing Director Alex Ladd.
"Three million in the trust fund is effectively $9 million in investment because the funds need to be leveraged at a three to one ratio," she said.
The next step is finding a mix of recurring funding sources. Webber mentioned the possibility of a housing bond that would go to the residents of Santa Fe for a vote as one possibility.
The Finance Committee will hear both a resolution regarding the $1.8 million allocation and planning for future funding tonight beginning at 5pm.
The meeting is accessible to the public via the city’s YouTube page.