What will growth bring to City Different?

March 18, 2019 GMT

When The New Mexican asked recently if I was interested in writing a regular column for the Sunday Real Estate section, I think the people there were a little surprised that I said yes so quickly. But honestly, it feels like a full circle since my college editorialist days 40 years ago.

Back then, I’d go off on any and all subjects; this time, I’m going to keep it to what I know, and that’s housing and development in Santa Fe.

As a carpenter, remodeler, custom-home builder and subdivision developer, I hold my 32 years of housing experience in Santa Fe as a legitimate résumé. For the past 10 years, I was at the helm of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association as its paid executive officer, a position I stepped away from at the end of 2018 to get back in the business of getting some housing produced.

As a young carpenter in 1986, I was drawn to Santa Fe, like many of my baby boomer peers, because of the belief that one could build one’s own home out of mud, logs, flagstones and sweat. And many of us did. Many of us had also read Ed Mazria’s passive solar manifesto and fervently believed that the words of Taos author John Nichols and environmentalist Edward Abbey were those to live by — Abbey famously saying that “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.”

Well, yes it is, but it’s also something that just happens. And if we’re lucky, as we have been for over a century, at a nice sustainable pace. People move around the country; some people move to Santa Fe. We also want to retain the millennials we Santa Fe boomers raised here, and in decent, affordable housing with well-paying jobs. That means we are likely to continue to grow, whether we like it or not.

For the past 12 years, we have produced dwelling units at less than a third the rate necessary just to keep up with our barely 1 percent annual population growth rate, which is a pretty sustainable growth rate compared to other cities in the growing Southwest. But the lack of production has created a housing deficit that may climb to as many as 10,000 dwelling units before the tide turns over the next decade.

This column will explore the myriad issues we face when we contemplate more housing in Santa Fe. Is it homeownership or apartments? What is affordable, and how low can we go? Where’s the water coming from? What power do the neighborhoods possess? Is their political will to get more housing built? We’ll tackle them all and more. Stay tuned.

Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.