PACs Prep for Housing Fight

Pro and con groups emerge in advance of high-end home excise tax ballot question

Voters in the upcoming Nov. 7 election can expect messages from groups both in favor and against a proposed high-end home tax to bolster the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. One political action committee has already formed in support of the tax, while opposing realtors plan to finalize paperwork soon to declare an official committee.

United for Affordable Housing, chaired by state Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, aims to ask voters to approve the ballot measure through “a traditional campaign” that explains the tax and whom it would help, Romero says.

“Our campaign is going to really be knocking on doors, getting out in the community and having that direct discussion,” Romero tells SFR. “For me, even if you don’t want to get into the math of the excise tax, when you look at where affordability is most challenging, it’s for young people, it’s for working families, it’s for those who have been here for generations and the laborers who make things run in our city every day. And that’s who this tax serves.”

The proposed tax, also sometimes dubbed the “mansion tax,” would levy a 3% excise tax on the portion of all home sales exceeding $1 million at the time of scale.

PAC Deputy Campaign Manager Natalie Sept tells SFR she “felt personally compelled” to work toward the tax with United for Affordable Housing because of the disparities she noticed when she moved to Santa Fe four years ago from Portland, Oregon. She says she’s using her background in communications to help the committee reach voters. The committee plans to join several community partners with specialties in housing, homelessness and education and will host town halls and information sessions to further support the tax as a permanent funding source.

“I am really excited about the potential of this measure and what it will do, specifically that it’s not just brick-and-mortar homes or affordable units, but renter’s assistance, eviction prevention, and a variety of other things so we have more housing security,” Sept says. “I think it’s really important that people understand that this is going to help us leverage the money we already have in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help even more people.”

Advocates estimate the tax would generate about $4.5 million per year for the trust fund, based on data from about 1,552 home sales of $1 million or more in Santa Fe between 2018 and 2022. Supporters, including Mayor Alan Webber, say drumming up cash for the education effort will be essential to securing voter approval.

“Make no mistake, those opposed to this tax—the Realtors Association—are going to run a well-funded campaign, so we’re going to have to raise the money needed to make sure our facts counter their opinions,” Webber wrote in an email endorsement of the excise tax Aug. 27 following the City Council vote to put the question on the ballot.

United for Affordable Housing has raised $5,550 so far and spent over $2,000 on digital advertising, according to a campaign finance report filed with the city clerk Sept. 8.

While the proposed tax measure earned favorable public testimony during two hearings this summer, the real-estate lobby has already jumped into the fray to get out the “no” vote.

In 2009, realtors had a primary role in organizing against the passage of a similar-style tax rejected by voters.

City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic tells SFR members of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors declared their intention to file as a PAC on Friday. The trade group last month purchased ads opposing the tax, including $800 for an ad in SFR that reads, among other points: “Tell Mayor Webber and City Councilors to Nix this Recycled Home Tax Now.”

At least one public opinion poll is also in the field, with residents reporting both phone calls and text messages asking them to rate the messages from tax opponents. Both United for Affordable Housing and the Santa Fe Association of Realtors denied hiring pollsters.

Donna Reynolds, governmental affairs director, acted as campaign treasurer for the Santa Fe Housing Opportunity Partnership, which raised and spent about $144,000 opposing the 2009 tax proposal.

Right now, Reynolds says the association is “in a responsive mode” working to prepare an educational campaign “to engage voters” on its concerns raised regarding the tax. These include how officials landed on the 3% number; whether revenue estimates are accurate; and whether dollars already allocated to housing from the general fund would continue to be used for that purpose.

“The option [the City Council and the mayor] chose is something that’s quite divisive and will impact Santa Fe homeowners, so they must feel like this is important,” Reynolds tells SFR. “The association members value homeownership, and I think the real estate community recognizes a housing crisis. We just don’t think this is the answer.”

While Reynolds sees echoes of the past, Romero notes a number of differences between the current efforts and the 2009 vote, including this time the question appears in a general election instead of a special election. In 2009, those who voted against the measure made up 54% of the 8,404 voters—a difference of a little over 700 votes.

“[A general election cycle] gives us a real opportunity to galvanize those who are already going to come out to vote, but certainly those like myself who have been affected by the lack of affordability,” Romero says. “I just feel we are in a different place now with what has been so challenging, and I hope that our tent will get bigger and this will really drive folks to the polls.”

Early voting at the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office begins Oct. 10 from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday until Nov. 3, with an additional opportunity from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday Nov. 4. Find out more here about additional early voting locations, as well as the option to request an absentee ballot by mail. Otherwise, voters can cast their ballot Nov. 7.

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