Housing Hold

Bids for affordable housing at Midtown site face one-year delay

From the window of a dorm room converted into a storage area within Consuelo’s Place—a shelter that currently hosts 80 unhoused individuals and families in 61 rooms on the Midtown site—a truck clears out land directly across from the building to create a parking lot. Shelter Manager Michele Williams looks on, noting the work is for a movie shoot.

The tableau is appropriate, given the state of redevelopment for Midtown, where officials are pressing forward with plans for film but have pressed pause on affordable housing.

The City’s community development plan for the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design/College of Santa Fe campus, approved in February 2023, includes affordable housing, film, the arts and other types of mixed use. Last year, the city struck several deals: one for the expansion and redevelopment of film studios on the southern third of the campus, and another for a future Visual Arts Center that would use existing buildings and create new spaces for educational and creative purposes. The City also pledged $500,000 of “unanticipated” Lodger’s Tax revenue to renovate the Greer Garson Theater. Most recently, the City Council and the mayor authorized city staff to apply for Midtown to become a qualified production facility with the New Mexico Film Office which, if approved, will allow productions using any portion of the site to be eligible for an additional 5% tax credit.

Plans for affordable housing, on the other hand, have yet to surface. Community Development Department Director Rich Brown previously told SFR bid packets for the request for proposal phase of the first affordable housing parcel were expected in January, but Midtown MRA Director Karen Iverson’s most recent March 27 governing body presentation sets that timeline back approximately a year.

“I think we really need to get a little bit further along on the subdivision process and the timeline to put in infrastructure and utilities before we go on with those RFPs,” Iverson tells SFR of the delay. “Then we can go out to an RFP and the chosen partner can work to get the rest of their financing and then come in with a project about the same time that we would be bringing the utilities online.”

She says the city has an established concept for infrastructure, including sewer and utilities, but continues to work on a stormwater plan. Iverson notes redevelopment related to film was made first within the master plan because “the viability had already been proven at the site.”

“I think that the campus always had a strong film presence. It already had a film production studio—the Garson Studios. It was an economic-generating use on the site before the city took over the direction,” she says. “With the state tax credits and all of the momentum around film, it was kind of clear.”

Throughout the process, other partners have joined the work. Chainbreaker Collective—a membership-based economic and environmental justice organization—first became involved with the Midtown campus due to concerns regarding destabilization of surrounding neighborhoods. Then shortly after SFUAD’s closure, members came to the agreement to focus on affordable housing and “pressures around the city [that] were bubbling as well,” Communications Organizer Cathy Garcia tells SFR.

In reference to the one-year pause on affordable housing RFPs, she says the organization doesn’t “really think of it as a delay” because the city “has put into place policy mechanisms to actually make development on this campus truly sustainable,” and more work needs to be completed prior to seeking bids.

“We can’t just start building stuff if a truck can’t even get in to build it, so what I see is the city making that progress because they are putting those little pieces in place,” Garcia says. “We know that whatever happens there is going to have a major ripple effect for the entire city, so I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that the stakes are high. Being prudent I don’t think is a bad thing—I think it gives us more opportunity to find the right solution and more opportunity to find more revenue.”

One potential revenue source, she notes, could be the high-end excise tax that 73% of voters approved in the last local election.

“The transfer tax isn’t even supposed to take effect until May, which means that if they start looking at affordable housing solutions for January 2025, that means we’ll have accumulated June, July, August, September, October, November and December 2024 revenue going into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund that supports the building of affordable housing,” Garcia says. “So in some ways, it feels like if we tried to build affordable housing right now—assuming that’s even possible—we’d already be essentially working at a financial deficit.”

However, that tax—which requires a buyer to pay 3% of the portion of a home sale that exceeds $1 million—remains in the First Judicial District Court after Judge Bryan Biedscheid denied the city’s motion to dismiss a challenge from the Santa Fe Association of Realtors and property owners. Biedscheid requested that the unscheduled hearing take place before the tax goes into effect on May 28.

Also included in the Midtown effort is the relocation of Consuelo’s Place. Williams tells SFR she’s been in “ongoing discussions” with city officials, but a new location remains unidentified.

“We have had excellent communication with the city about the need for the relocation,” Williams says. “We have been exploring as a provider community the services that are needed, and then we will find a suitable location for that.”

Despite some delays, Iverson notes the city has “multiple trains leaving the station” when it comes to private development, infrastructure site activation and more, which she says is “a very good spot” for the city to be in.

“Development takes many years to unfold,” she says, “and now we actually have a clearer picture of what our timeline is and what our steps are going forward. We’re in a better position to partner with the development community.”

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