Photographer Holly Wilder was over the moon when she was approved for a first-floor apartment at the Siler Yard Arts + Creativity Center, but the high quickly fell to a deep low. She and other neighbors noticed a number of problems with humidity and noise, and when they went to the administration, nothing happened.
Developers envisioned Siler Yard as an affordable, net-zero energy multi-family development for artists and creators, generating less than 60% of the area’s median income (close to $34,000 this year). U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, D-NM, praised the development and recently toured Siler Yard, which won an “Innovation Award” at the American Institute of Architects’ Santa Fe 2019 Design Awards. It’s been touted as a model for an affordable live-work community — but some residents tell a different story, and it’s not quite what the community’s creator envisioned.
Beginnings and beginnings in the early days of Siler Yard highlight the shaky balance between providing affordable housing in a city plagued by rising housing costs and the difficulty of providing quality living conditions.
During the week of August 8, monsoon rains flooded the property’s parking lots, ran off Siler Road and Acequia Madre, and caused portions of the asphalt at the back of the property to buckle. The area is currently under construction.
“We are currently working with our contractor to complete the drainage system as designed and specified by our architects and engineers,” said an email sent Aug. 12 by New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing Corp., the nonprofit , owned by Siler Yard, has been sent to residents.
This is just the latest in a series of hurdles. From a rocky start, residents have reported extreme noise, management issues, mold and structural problems.
Siler Yard has also not developed in the way Daniel Werwath – Executive Director of Inter-Faith Housing and the driving force of Siler Yard – had hoped. The complexity between cost, quality, tenant desires, and a multi-layered management model has resulted in something “very different from what I imagined,” says Werwath. “It’s actually very disappointing.”
Wilder, Santa Fe Poetry Award winner Darryl Lorenzo Wellington (an SFR contributor), actor Stephen Jules Rubin and others cite noise as one of their top concerns.
When SFR meets with local residents during the week of the flood, we sit at a crooked, shaky table.
“This table is like our building,” says Wilder with a rueful laugh.
According to Werwath, the buildings were designed to exceed soundproofing requirements. He points out various bells and whistles: VCT flooring, gypsum concrete on the second floor, soundproof mats, and regular insulation.
“Whatever is transmitted is contact noise, but it has nothing to do with how the project was designed or built,” Werwath tells SFR.
His solution was to buy carpet for the second floor units and “encourage people to talk to their neighbors if they’re loud.”
“The irony is that [Siler Yard] is in the middle of an industrial area, where we warned about noise from the start,” he says.
But for some local residents, the noise levels exceed anything they experienced or expected.
“They had 10 years to plan this and think about what an artist needs,” says Wellington. “But it doesn’t even meet the needs of people, let alone artists.”
Werwath began working on the idea for Siler Yard in 2004. Since then, there’s been snag after snag — the 2009 economic meltdown, the Trump election (which “really messed up affordable housing,” Werwath says), and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a miracle that this project came about,” he says.
Construction costs increased by more than $1 million in just a few months, according to Werwath — a more than 10% increase in overall costs. And now, with the parking lot collapsing, the project is still not shut out of construction and continues to incur about $40,000 a month in late fees and interest.
The $18.8 million, 65-unit project was supported by approximately $9.4 million of a competitive low-income housing tax credit and a 40-year Section 221(d)(4) mortgage funded by $5.4 million – both programs of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The City of Santa Fe contributed approximately $2.2 million in permit and fee waivers, a grant, and the 4.3 acres of land on which Siler Yard was built.
New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing received a $650,000 grant from Century Bank and FHLB Dallas for the Affordable Housing program.
Werwath’s woes didn’t stop with construction.
Since its inception, the property has passed through three different management companies. The current one – 40i Property Management – has been there since June. Werwath says Inter-Faith hired a few employees from Monarch Properties, Inc., the former management company, to “create continuity.”
New Mexico’s first not-for-profit real estate management company, 40i, aligns itself with Inter-Faith values, says Werwath.
“For us, it was about finding a manager who shared our charitable mission and was able to provide our residents with the service and responsiveness we believe they deserve,” he says.
But he admits that management has been a challenge and that none of the previous management companies have been up to the task.
“It was a huge problem,” he says, citing the complexity of the project as a stumbling block — balancing preferences for artists and New Mexico residents with three different income levels and three different housing units made the model unwieldy.
Alexandra Ladd, the city’s director of affordable housing, acknowledges the complexity of the model but says it’s necessary to meet tenants’ needs.
“I think that’s the difficult bit,” she says. “You try to meet a whole range of needs and requirements, which of course don’t go together.”
For Werwath, Siler Yard is an apprenticeship.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for a model around community-based design and public support for projects, particularly land donations, which I think are really important to what the city is trying to achieve with the Midtown campus,” says Werwath.
But for the residents, his experiment is their home and livelihood.
“The only thing this is a model for is how not to build an artist site,” says Wilder.