Siler Road project shows power of partnerships

Approval of a 65-unit affordable housing project on city-owned land along Siler Road shows a rare occasion when delays ended up working for everyone involved.

Project developer New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing twice had gone after federal tax credits to help finance the project and was turned down. The third time proved to be the charm, and the Arts and Creativity Center is a go.

Last week, the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority told backers — including Creative Santa Fe, which started the process back in 2012 — that the project had been awarded $10.4 million in tax credits, a big chunk of the project’s $17 million overall cost. With tax credits, private investors provide capital and receive the federal credits in return — such investors are key to a project’s success.

So are the other players, including the city of Santa Fe. It has committed some $2.3 million in land, fee waivers and other contributions, and multiple partners are bringing in the remainder of the financing. Planning money, to the tune of $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, also helped the project move forward. When it’s all wrapped up — some $400,000 still needs to be raised for the solar energy system — only a $5 million mortgage should remain.

And in the end, the delays made the project better. Inter-Faith Housing director Daniel Werwath said key to success was making the development a net-zero energy project, with a proposal for a solar system that offsets all electrical use at the center. Adding renewable energy lowered operating costs, which allowed for a slightly larger mortgage, meaning developers could seek a smaller subsidy. Finally, the proposal was approved.

Best of all, in its final rendition, every apartment in the complex will be affordable. Before, about a dozen units would have been rented at market rates. Rents will be based on income, set to income levels that range between 3o percent and 60 percent of the median income. A single person making some $14,000 a year, about 30 percent of median income, would only pay $390 a month for a one bedroom unit, including utilities, for example. This level of affordability is crucial in Santa Fe, where rents have experienced two years of double-digit increases and multifamily housing occupancy is at 97.8 percent. We lack enough places to live, and the ones we do have are expensive.

Groundbreaking won’t take place until February 2020. The plan is to begin leasing in January of 2021, with the building being completed that summer. That puts the Arts and Creativity Center just over two years away from reality. Once it is built, in addition to the live/work units, complex-dwellers will enjoy common spaces that could lead to greater creative collaborations — this is not just a place to live, but one where people can thrive and make connections. Of course, artists are not the only people who need housing, and the needs of people in low-wage jobs — whether in retail, labor, at an office or other endeavors — need to be considered.

With another project just approved by the Housing Authority, the city of Santa Fe is making progress on adding housing that people actually can afford. We need more, of course, especially houses that are affordable so that young people, when they tire of apartment life, can buy a house, move in and raise their families.

The key to the success of the project is the partnership of public, private and nonprofit actors. Eventually, Santa Fe will be home to a place where people who don’t make a lot of money can live, work and still have funds left over to buy groceries or go to a movie. That’s a success to celebrate.

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