It’s no secret that the city’s affordable housing problem is a hot topic in Santa Fe as average rents continue to rise well above what average Santa Fe residents can afford.

A quick scroll down community social media pages on any given day almost always yields pleas for housing help; this particular Wednesday, those included home-seeking notices from a single mom of two who recently earned a degree in early childhood education and a full-time employee at the Institute of American Indian Arts whose family of four is desperate to keep their dog, Flower, though the search for pet-friendly rentals keeps coming up short.

City councilors told the public at a meeting Wednesday evening that they are finally ready to commit to facing the issue head-on with a $1.8 million investment into the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The measure was first introduced earlier this month and will bring the fund up to the recommended $3 million annual sum. It passed unanimously on Wednesday.

Of that sum, $1.5 million will come from gross receipt tax revenues. The city has extra cash to spend this year because it now expects revenue to be much higher than was anticipated at the beginning of the fiscal year in June—at the economic nadir of COVID-19.

The additional cash allocated to the trust fund must be used by the end of the current fiscal year, said Office of Affordable Housing Director Alexandra Ladd.

"The intention is to deploy the funds as quickly as possible to deflect or mitigate what we see coming before us, which is a huge eviction crisis," Ladd said, adding that the city is already working with local nonprofits to identify a second property for a hotel to housing conversion modeled on the success of the Santa Fe Suites conversion late last year.

While the city has discussed the trust fund option for years, this is the first time the city directly allocated money into the fund beyond fees collected in accordance with inclusionary zoning laws.

Mayor Alan Webber attributed the change of heart directly to city residents' advocacy in favor of the trust fund.

"Why the affordable housing trust fund? Because [the Finance Department staff] held a public hearing where we listened to our residents tell us what was on their mind and 30 or more people all agreed that the affordable housing trust fund was a high priority, perhaps the highest priority," he said, referencing a city council meeting on March 10 that included a public hearing about the city's upcoming budget. "We listened and now with this budget adjustment we are responding, taking action."

In other news, the city's Economic Development Director Rich Brown also announced plans to cancel the Request for Expression of Interest process for selecting a master developer for the Midtown Campus. The process yielded a handful of proposals by master developers last year. Texas-based developer KDC/Cienda Partners was chosen from among the top contenders and entered an exclusive negotiation agreement with the city. The deal was abruptly ended in January after the developer said the plan was no longer be feasible due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and unforeseen costs of infrastructure and rezoning requirements on the campus.

The termination of the agreement did not, however, end the RFEI process, and the city still had the option to accept the second-best proposal. Instead, the city will start from scratch and begin its own process of evaluating the needs of the campus and moving forward with projects such as restoration and demolition of existing  buildings, rezoning, and moving forward with film industry proposals for the Garson Studios.

Though council members raised concerns that they did not get to vote on the abandonment of the RFEI and that city staff might not have the bandwidth for such a massive undertaking, redevelopment Project Manager Daniel Hernandez said this move gives the city the most say over what happens next and the greatest leverage in making sure community objectives such as affordable housing are met.

"Now we want to make sure that as we proceed, we are positioning the city and  the site so we can maximize the opportunity to negotiate what the public wants to see there," said Hernandez.

City staff presented the council with a work plan to prepare the campus for redevelopment within the next 16 to 18 months. Staff expect to be able to present more details as to how much the whole process will cost as early as May.