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2020 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition Site Visit: Santa Fe County Housing Authority, Santa Fe, New Mexico

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2020 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition Site Visit: Santa Fe County Housing Authority, Santa Fe, New Mexico

19 individuals, including students from the four finalist student teams associated with HUD’s Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design & Planning Competition, stand together and hold a sign with the competition title.The four finalist student teams pose for a picture at the Santa Fe County Housing Authority with staff and project representatives.

This year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition will challenge the four finalist teams — the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Maryland at College Park; the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Yale University — to create innovative housing while preserving and celebrating the unique culture of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The teams must balance several factors when developing their final plans, including the planning context (that is, zoning requirements), local economic conditions, a feasible financing plan, the built environment, and the larger social needs of the community.

The Santa Fe County Housing Authority (SFCHA) has not built new housing in more than 35 years; this competition gives the agency an opportunity to obtain new and creative ideas for building future housing. The 2020 competition site, which is currently vacant and irregularly shaped, is approximately 1,200 feet north of the intersection of Camino de Jacobo and Airport Road in the city of Santa Fe. The entire parcel can be used for development and is zoned “Commercial C-2,” which allows for up to 29 units per acre, the highest allowable density in the city. The parcel has water and sewer access and abuts one of SFCHA’s current developments.

Visiting the Santa Fe County Housing Authority and the Site

SFCHA was created on November 17, 1972, and remains one of the largest public housing agencies in HUD’s Southwest Region. Boasting a robust project portfolio, SFCHA currently manages 198 public housing units and 307 housing choice vouchers through its various voucher programs. Santa Fe also manages a Housing Choice Voucher homeownership program, Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency program, Family Self-Sufficiency Program, and Capital Fund program.

Students sit at tables and listen to a presenter standing in front of table.Students listen as Joseph Montoya, executive director of the Santa Fe County Housing Authority (at left), discusses the county’s vision for the new site development.

On March 12, 2020, Santa Fe’s mayor, Alan Webber, organized a reception for the students to meet key city stakeholders. The next day, the students learned about the history and culture of Santa Fe. The first to speak was County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who impressed on the students the desperate need for affordable housing in Santa Fe, where the rental vacancy rate is 2 percent. She asked the students to develop affordable housing that not only is decent and energy efficient but also improves residents’ lives and forms a desirable community that offers easy access to jobs, shopping, and services.

SFCHA executive director Joseph R. Montoya told the students about the city’s need for housing and asked them to keep the rich history of Santa Fe in mind while creating their designs; in particular, how the settlement of the area influenced the built environment. Jamie Blosser, executive director of the Santa Fe Art Institute, told the students that they should think outside of the box to create designs that integrate the city’s rich art and architectural heritage but also are forward thinking and take the surrounding neighborhood into account.

Santa Fe has been inhabited for 400 years, first by the Pueblos and then by the Spanish. Understanding this history provides some context for the types of housing in Santa Fe and will help students develop housing that will speak to the city’s current residents as well as those living in the city 100 years from now.

The student teams must develop plans that comply with specific design criteria. The county stakeholders would like to increase the site’s density by adding buildings while creating distinct exterior spaces and activity settings conducive to informal gatherings, socialization, and other desirable social interactions. In addition, the stakeholders would like to create well-defined, functional, and pleasant pedestrian infrastructure throughout the site to increase opportunities for socialization as well as formal and casual connectivity to the outdoor activity settings. Vehicular access needs to be both functional and as compact as practical; however, in areas where pedestrian paths and roads intersect, pedestrian paths should be visually dominant. In short, the students’ designs must be centered around people, not cars.

A vacant site, with an adjacent parcel of developed land visible in the background.This 6.6-acre parcel, located behind a local strip mall, is slated for a new multifamily development that will provide housing options for families with children.

The student teams also need to incorporate prevailing wind, solar, and other climate-related elements into their designs. SFCHA would like the development to come as close to net-zero energy use as possible to qualify for LEED Platinum designation. Water use requirements are mandated as part of the building code. Because SFCHA may be housing several residents with mental disabilities, a calm, soothing internal environment is essential.

The designs should focus on one- and two-bedroom units serving families earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income. The project will be financed through 9 percent low-income housing tax credits, affordable housing tax credits from the state of New Mexico, HOME Investment Partnerships funds, an award from the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund, HUD Section 542(c) enhancement funds, an award from the federal Housing Trust Fund, a loan from the Ventanna Fund, and land contributions with possible infrastructure assistance from Santa Fe County. The city offers reduced fees and certain waivers for affordable housing developments.

What’s Next for the 2020 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

Now that the four finalist teams have visited the project site, they will revise their plans, paying attention to the environmental, financial, and social criteria associated with the construction site. The teams will present their revised proposals at a virtual event on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

Immediately following the student presentations, the jury will deliberate and decide on this year’s winning and runner-up teams.

The event is open to all interested parties via webcast and will be recorded. All who wish to attend the IAH Student Design and Planning Competition awards ceremony on Thursday, April 16, must register at

To learn more about this year’s IAH Student Design and Planning Competition, please visit

Published Date: 6 April 2020

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.