Santa Fe's Affordable Housing Challenge and the S3 Response
Safe, Stable, and Supportive Housing
Residents of the City Different face a housing squeeze that has become the norm across America. The ingredients are familiar: record median home prices, a limited housing stock, and a rising population.
The result is a knotty problem with cascading consequences: as home ownership falls further out of reach for the middle class, more families are renting. As rentals become less affordable and less available, more Santa Feans are at risk of homelessness.
This is just one facet of Santa Fe’s homelessness challenge — a complex and interrelated set of economic and social issues decades in the making.
Thankfully, the S3 Santa Fe Housing Initiative — a partnership between Santa Fe Community Foundation, Thornburg Foundation, McCune Charitable Foundation, Anchorum St. Vincent, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, the City of Santa Fe, and Santa Fe County — is working to address this challenge.
The consortium offers funding and investment solutions to address Santa Fe’s immediate affordable housing needs — while simultaneously developing policy and organizational resources to tackle the roots of the problem. In just a few short years, S3 has already achieved meaningful progress in expanding Santa Feans’ access to safe, stable, and supportive housing — and is developing a blueprint for more in the years to come.
More Than One Kind of Homelessness
The most obvious signs of Santa Fe’s homelessness challenge are hard to miss — people seeking help on medians around the city, living in parks and arroyos, and congregating outside nonprofit shelters and service providers.
But the region’s actual homelessness challenge is broader and more complicated. Experts on homelessness in the government, nonprofit, and academic spheres typically describe multiple tiers of homelessness. While their terms differ, it is useful to consider these categories:
This is what happens when people encounter a major life event — including a job loss, illness, or divorce — that leads to the loss of stable housing for a short period. Because of Santa Fe’s housing shortage, a rising number of stably-employed individuals and families are at risk of economic (or “transitional”) homelessness.
In this situation, people may be lucky to land a place in one of the city’s few transitional housing or shelter programs. They may also “couch-surf” at the homes of relatives, friends, or strangers (what is sometimes referred to as “hidden homelessness”) or sleep in their cars or in unsheltered public spaces.
A person or family experiencing episodic homelessness undergoes multiple periods without housing in under a year. Many of the Santa Feans facing episodic homelessness also grapple with challenges such as disability, substance use issues, or mental illness. Some episodically homeless people are able to maintain jobs; without community support, however, episodic homelessness can evolve into chronic homelessness.
When people think of homelessness, this is often what they picture: a person or family experiencing long-term homelessness without clear prospects for stable housing or employment. Chronically homeless people often live in places that are unsafe and grapple with long-term health challenges.
While this is certainly the most visible type of homelessness in Santa Fe, data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness suggests that it is probably a small fraction of the total.
The S3 Response
The work of S3 focuses on six goals to stabilize housing and provide supportive services for vulnerable individuals and families in Santa Fe.
In particular, efforts that focus on mapping the existing homeless response system, identifying gaps, and developing cooperative strategies to fill those gaps will help define the city’s need for affordable housing in precise and actionable terms.
Ideally, that effort will inform goal area three — expanding Santa Fe’s shortage of affordable housing stock. And as more housing gets built, converted, or otherwise made available, goal area one will focus consortium members’ efforts on the need to ensure support services for the newly and precariously housed. This may include efforts to mitigate housing insecurity caused by rising rents — and revisit the negative impacts of a state law barring municipalities from advancing rent stabilization ordinances that support working families.
The Lamplighter Initiative: Showing the Way Forward
In May of 2022, a series of partners finalized negotiations to transform the former Lamplighter Inn at 2405 Cerrillos Road into 58 units of affordable housing. Known as the Lamplighter Initiative, the project is funded by many of the same organizations that comprise S3.
The effort was also supported by Project Moxie, a community development organization with deep experience across the Western United States. According to Project Moxie's Matt Lynn, “we viewed this project as an opportunity to quickly add affordable housing units to the community while repurposing an existing structure that is close to public transportation, shopping, and social services.”
When redevelopment is completed at the Lamplighter Inn later this year, leases will be made available to Santa Feans earning 80 percent of the area median income or less. In addition, one-fourth of the units will be made available to residents who require additional supportive services that will be provided by The Life Link, located nearby. The units will rent for $725 to $825 per month.
The Initiative is a prime example of what can happen when creative, committed teams combine forces to address our city’s affordable housing issues.
“The Lamplighter Initiative was a hugely collaborative effort. Local governments, nonprofit organizations, housing experts, and a mission-driven developer worked in tandem to purchase the hotel and ensure that the property will serve the community for many years to come,” says Lynn.
Of course, S3 recognizes that one hotel conversion — or even a handful — will not replace the need for comprehensive, long-term strategy. Consortium members agree: genuine solutions to Santa Fe’s affordable housing challenge will include the construction of covenanted, dedicated low-income housing — including units large enough to accommodate growing families — as well as a sustained, cross-agency system for monitoring and responding to changing conditions over time.
Early signs from S3 are cause for optimism.
Please consider supporting affordable housing in our community with a gift to the S3 Santa Fe Housing Initiative today. Your support and partnership help us fund our strategies to end homelessness and help improve the quality of life for all Santa Fe residents.