Voters in the City of Santa Fe say it’s time for a permanent revenue stream for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Unofficial results from the Nov. 7 local election report more than 73% cast ballots in favor of a new excise tax on high-end home sales while 27% voted against the measure.
As the results rolled in, tax backers celebrated a hard-fought victory. In 2009, voters rejected a similar tax proposal.
“I was thinking we may get 60% and that would be good,” Homewise CEO Mike Loftin tells SFR at a gathering organized by pro-tax PAC United for Affordable Housing as votes were being tallied. “But we’re up to over 70%, and that’s great!”
Allies of the tax, including Chainbreaker Collective Executive Director Tomás Rivera, New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing Executive Director Daniel Werwath and Loftin, watched returns at Mass Design Group.
“I’m calling it already, I think we won,” Rivera told SFR at 8:23 pm. “It feels really good because a strong coalition put in a lot of work to make this happen.”
By 11 pm, with more than 20,700 votes tallied, Rivera’s prediction held true.
Under the measure, the buyer of a home will pay a 3% tax on the portion of any sale that exceeds $1 million. For example, a home priced at $1.4 million would result in a $12,000 tax, or 3% of the $400,000 that exceeds the threshold. Advocates for the tax estimate it would generate about $4.5 million per year, based on data about 1,552 home sales above $1 million in Santa Fe between 2018 and 2022.
With a dedicated source of funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, supporters say nonprofit organizations working in housing can undertake multi-year planning, apply for tax credits and ultimately get more units on the ground. A United for Affordable Housing poll forecasted the win in mid-October. Change Research questioned voters between Oct. 4 and Oct. 7 and found that 66% of 467 respondents favored the tax.
Sylvia Chavez, a lifelong resident of Santa Fe who lives in District 2, voted yes on Election Day. Chavez tells SFR she supported the tax to combat displacement of native Santafesinos.
“Local people are being priced out of the market. Everybody can come in from somewhere else and spend millions of dollars on a home and then people who live here can’t afford a house. It’s not right,” she says.
District 1 voter Louise Abel, a retired physician, made her way to the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office Nov. 4 to support the measure. She tells SFR Santa Fe’s affordable housing issue is “really personal for all of us.”
“I feel like affordable housing is a huge need in Santa Fe, and I have a niece and nephew who have really struggled, and even my own daughter, to find affordable housing in Santa Fe,” Abel says.
Lara Katz, a District 2 voter and a Santa Fe homeowner of 18 years, also voted in favor of the measure at the Santa Fe County Fair Building.
“I am generally in favor of taxing those with more to provide for the general society. We need affordable housing.…My house is going to get to that threshold. It’s not that high of a threshold. I’m still for participating. I’m willing to take the hit because I believe in that,” Katz tells SFR. “I just see so much desperation and the inequality is just growing so wide, and I want normal people to be able to live in this town and I want people in really dire situations to have support. We can’t have a functioning community without that.”
Turnout in the election reached 30.9% countywide, a number that exceeded the 2021 local election participation rate of 24%.
Absentee ballots returned by mail or in drop boxes accounted for 4,465 voters, a number equal to just under 14% of the voters who cast ballots in the county. About 38% did so at early voting in-person locations, while close to 49% percent voted in-person on Election Day.
“The enthusiasm and commitment of Santa Fe County voters is truly remarkable,” County Clerk Katharine E. Clark said in a statement. “The 2023 Regular Local Election has seen an unexpectedly high turnout, demonstrating the dedication of our citizens to make their voices heard and shape the future of our county.”Spending in the election by PACs drew six figures from both sides of the tax debate, with United for Affordable Housing, chaired by state Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, raising over $132,000 to work toward approval.
The tax faced strong opposition from the Santa Fe Housing Opportunity Partnership, a realtor-led PAC that raised over $230,000 against the cause. In 2009, realtors had a primary role in organizing against a similar-style tax. This time around, the Santa Fe Association of Realtors contributed the majority of the money. Opponents of the tax described it as “divisive” and questioned how the money generated by the tax would be spent.
Santa Fe Salon hair stylist Dwight Miller, who voted at St. John’s United Methodist Church on Election Day, tells SFR he voted against the housing tax.
“All these historic houses are going up so fast. They’re all going to be over $1 million. People think $1 million is a lot of money, which it was years ago. When you were a millionaire, you were like a billionaire. You’re not anymore,” Miller says. “I understand how it works, you come up with a bleeding heart thing but in the end, it’s just about raising taxes I feel.…I’m totally against it.”
District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt and outgoing District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal first cosponsored a measure to place the tax on the ballot in July. Cassutt called the support “extremely exciting, especially because we know this was not the case when this was attempted before.”
“To really see the community rallying behind affordable housing is important, and we’re seeing it in such a decisive win. That shows that really a cross section of our community is very much in support of this. They realize what a crucial need affordable housing is and the negative impact that it is having on the city of Santa Fe, and they are willing to step up and do something about it,” Cassutt tells SFR. “As I always say, this is step one. We have a number of things that we need to do to make sure that we don’t just have the funding for affordable housing, but we’re actually producing affordable living for our community.”
Voters also approved several amendments to the city’s charter: 70% of 19,481 participants favored amending the charter to change the population that determines the required number of signatures for referenda, initiatives and recalls from the number of voters who voted for mayor to the voters who voted in the most recent election that included the mayor’s office.
Voters also favored amendments to reduce the number of signatures required to place a referenda or an initiative on the ballot from 33% to 15%, measures which garnered 56% and 57% of the vote respectively. Finally, voters showed overwhelming support for providing future Charter Commissions with more resources—80% of 18,910 voters said yes.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said the election proved the efficacy of a state law change that allowed cities and school boards to schedule elections at the same time.
“The consolidation of the state’s local elections into the Regular Local Election aimed to provide voters and election administrators with increased accessibility and consistency in the electoral process and, once again, we witnessed this success today,” she said in a statement. “Voters took advantage of weeks of early voting preceding Election Day, the convenience of no-excuse absentee balloting, secure ballot drop boxes, and same-day voter registration. As I’m fond of saying, New Mexicans recognize that our elections serve as a model for the nation. They are conducted impartially, with integrity and security, all while ensuring robust access to the ballot for voters.”
All election results remain unofficial until the canvassing process is complete and the state Canvassing Board certifies the official results. The process will take place over the next two weeks at the county level, with the Canvassing Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28 to certify the official results and order any recounts.