Dozens of Santa Feans might soon find a new home at an old motel along Cerrillos Road, perhaps slightly denting the city’s housing crisis.
With a price tag of over $10 million, the Lamplighter Inn is set to be sold and converted into 58 rental units for affordable housing candidates and special needs tenants, including unhoused people.
If all goes to plan, residents could, by the end of next year, move into apartments purchased primarily with public money and managed by JL Gray Company, which specializes in development and management of affordable housing.
Funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development via the state of New Mexico, local nonprofit Anchorum St. Vincent and Santa Fe County. The County Commission voted to approve $1.5 million last week.
The City of Santa Fe may also be chipping in about $3 million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and American Rescue Plan funds, with City Council votes expected in January.
Once converted, the facility would include a mix of studios and one-bedrooms, 25% of which would accommodate special needs tenants, a category that includes people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk.
“It can’t be someone who needs 24-hour care, but it’ll be people who may need help with rent and may need a counselor every once in a while,” says Jeff Curry, director of development at JL Gray, which created a new legal entity, called Bella Luz, to act as the owner. “The goal is that this is going to provide them housing where they otherwise might be homeless.”
The rest of the units would be for people who earn at or under 80% of the median income for Santa Fe, which HUD calculated this year at $51,100 for a one-person household.
Local nonprofit The Life Link is next door to the Lamplighter and will provide services, such as case management and help accessing benefits.
Rent will start at $725 a month for a studio and $825 for a one-bedroom, Curry says, adding that those rates are affordable for people in the 60% median income range.
There’s a clear need for such a project.
Households that spend greater than 30% of their income on housing are considered cost-burdened. In Santa Fe, 86% of renter households earning less than $50,000 a year fall into that category, according to the Santa Fe Realtors Association.
There was also an estimated shortage of 7,343 rental units in the Santa Fe metropolitan statistical area as of 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.
This year’s Point in Time Count reported 723 people were homeless in Santa Fe on a day in January, a significant increase from last year, according to the realtors association.
Despite the need, there may be pushback from nearby residents, mirroring some reactions to comparable initiatives like Santa Fe Suites, a hotel the city bought with co-developer Community Solutions last year to turn into long-term housing.
County Commissioner Anna Hansen voted with the four other commissioners to approve funding for the project but said at a recent commission meeting that the Lamplighter is in her neighborhood, a few blocks away from homeless shelter Pete’s Place, and some of her constituents are “concerned.”
“They do not want to see another Pete’s Place developed,” Hansen said. “There’s already a large impact from Life Link and I do get calls and complaints about cars and people parking in the neighborhood and not always being respectful to the neighbors.”
Alexandra Ladd, affordable housing director for the City of Santa Fe, says there was similar opposition to Santa Fe Suites.
“One of the [business owners] in the shopping center was saying, ‘These people are going to be loitering in the parking lot and heckling our customers,’” Ladd tells SFR. “And I think I even said at a public meeting, ‘If you have a nice, warm, comfortable apartment to stay in, why would you be in the parking lot or on the street corner?’”
Ladd says while she understands why people get worried, reactions like that show that even in a progressive city like Santa Fe, there’s still education to be done.
Curry says the developer is planning to hold an early neighborhood notification meeting in the coming months so that nearby residents can weigh in on design plans and other details.
“There’s always opposition when people don’t know what’s going in, but this will be a true asset to the neighborhood,” Curry says.
The conversion could be starting as early as summer 2022, with the first tenants moving in a year from now.