Shopping carts, couches, old tires and paper waste jumble a vacant lot on Camino de Jacobo, just north of Airport Road—a relatively common sight on Santa Fe’s Southside.

But there’s transformation on the books for this deserted parcel: about 100 units of mixed-income, affordable housing officials are pushing toward groundbreaking that would mark Santa Fe County’s first such project in three-plus decades.

The county plans the development as a step toward addressing a longstanding, worsening housing shortage.

The $15 million project is in its early stages, with an early focus on financing. Top brass and staff pitched their preferred architectural contractor—the local firm Autotroph—at a County Commission meeting on July 13.

County Manager Katherine Miller told the board the county plans to apply for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program to offset construction costs. To do that, officials need Autotroph’s help drawing up designs to present in the application to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

“The program is very competitive, and we don’t have the expertise in-house to prepare that package,” Miller told commissioners. “So this agreement is to get us started on the work we need to get done in order to apply.”

The commission approved a $600,000 contract for Autotroph, sending the agreement back to Miller for her signature.

Last year, a team of Yale University students won the Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition, put on by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, for housing proposals for the Camino de Jacobo site. Autotroph will use that proposal—called “Jacobo Commons,” it features a daycare, gym and several courtyards—as a jumping off point.

The 6.6-acre property is zoned to allow for up to 29 units per acre, the highest allowable density in Santa Fe. County officials say the development will have transportation services and amenities including a community room.

Officials are planning for energy efficiency, too: Commissioner Anna Hansen, whose district will be home to the development, says the county is aiming for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification, awarded for the highest level of compliance with different aspects of sustainability, such as reducing carbon emissions.

“We recognize that for low-income people, one of their huge expenses is utilities,” Hansen tells SFR. “So, it’ll be good not only for the environment, good for the planet, but good for constituents.”

Hansen says it’s too early to say when the county will break ground on the development.

Santa Fe County bought the property in 2018 using the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is primarily paid for by fees developers pay in lieu of providing affordable rentals.

A trip to the Camino de Jacobo lot this week shows the affordable housing development’s infancy: refuse littering the outskirts and a dirt road cutting through the property that residents of the surrounding neighborhood appear to use as a shortcut to nearby shops. It’s tough to see the vision of the Yale students, Autotroph and county leaders from here.

Commissioner Rudy Garcia said at the July 13 meeting that people have been camping out on the edges of the property. What’s to come, he added, is aimed, in part, to help people who are living without homes.

“Hopefully those individuals that we see on the streets actually can benefit from this type of project,” Garcia said.