Affordable housing: Do we need more ‘dialogue’?

The Santa Fe Association of Realtors will use a $25,000 grant from a state Realtors group to, in essence, research the research that’s been done by various groups involved in the city’s affordable housing issues but who don’t seem to be sharing their information with each other, the president of the local Realtors group said last week.

Mary S. Schroeder said the money from the Realtors Association of New Mexico will be spent to develop a “housing dialogue” among those involved in the issues and to hire an independent research firm to collect all the research that’s been done on ways to make Santa Fe housing more affordable for average working citizens.

She said the grant “would allow us to have a dialogue with all the key players at the table.” Schroeder conceded that many studies have already been done on the matter but often those involved “aren’t talking to each other” about their findings, or present conflicting information.

Others involved in housing issues, however, questioned the usefulness of yet another study if it’s centered just on housing.

“I don’t think the solution is to keep studying it,” said Mike Loftin of the nonprofit housing agency Homewise, which works with buyers, builders and others on financing and other housing matters. “The danger is that studies become the excuse” for inaction.

Loftin said if the Realtors’ most recent efforts “help get focus on concrete action, it’s a good thing; if it’s a diversion, it’s a loss.”

The Realtors association earlier this year spent thousands of dollars in a successful effort to defeat a city property transfer tax that would have levied a 1 percent fee on sales of homes of $750,000 or more. The tax would have been on the amount over $750,000, and used to support efforts to make homes more affordable for more people.

Schroeder said that had the tax passed, “it would have been a disaster” because it targeted only a certain group of people and would not have raised the funds proponents claimed.

“We want to find solutions,” Schroeder said. “The transfer tax was not the way to do it.”

Kathy McCormick, the city’s director of housing and community development, said some of the Realtors’ past suggestions for discussion on housing issues, especially in the middle of the transfer tax controversy, “seemed disingenuous.”

However, she said the new study, in whatever form it takes, could be helpful if its focus is expanded to include, not just housing, but other community issues as well. “To solely focus on housing would be a missed opportunity,” McCormick said.

She also said several housing-needs assessment and related studies have and continue to be conducted, and are available for anybody who wants to examine them. The various reports have been shared extensively among those involved, McCormick said.

Steve Anaya, executive director of the state Realtors group, said one of the goals of his industry concerning affordable housing is to bring “public awareness to consumers and the community as a whole.”

He said he hopes the new initiative will “facilitate the conversation and keep the dialogue going.”