Changing Our Rental Housing Paradigm

Santafe.com - October 1, 2011

"Because these changing times are so financially challenging, we need to find a way to make rental housing more available to people"

When I was working in Student Support Services at Santa Fe Community College, students often complained about how difficult it was to rent housing in Santa Fe. Not only were rents high, but on top of that, students had to pay for two months at the same time (first and last) and a deposit. Most of our students didn’t have that kind of money, which is why they depended on relatives or friends to house them, which often resulted in overcrowded and difficult conditions.

I have even met young people in Santa Fe who recently moved here who were looking for work, or had just found work, who couldn’t afford to come up with all the money required to get themselves into a rental. Because these changing times are so financially challenging, we need to find a way to make rental housing more available to people.

In some big cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York), owners of hotels, bed and breakfasts and even large houses, have begun to rent out individual rooms by the month. The rooms usually include a bed, a closet, a table/desk, and space for some bedding and towels. Sometimes there is a kitchen in the house, which is shared by the renters; sometimes chores are shared by renters, and owners can, of course, post house rules about noise, etc. Bathrooms can vary in number but must be adequate. When I lived in Berkeley and started my graduate program, I lived in a house like this because I didn’t have time to find an appropriate rental situation.

Because rooms in houses often rent month-to-month (but this, too, can vary), renters at least know that they are covered with living for a whole month while they look for other possibilities. That way, they can at least get into some kind of housing without paying exorbitant fees. Some renters stay in these houses for years.

Santa Feans who have available rooms in their houses could begin to think of renting them out. I know that some local people could use the additional income. Some owners are naturally the nurturing types and they might enjoy having another person in their homes to whom they could talk occasionally, share coffee or use to look after their houses.

Many young people can come up with $400 a month (or whatever the charge) but find it quite impossible to come up with $900 a month rental fee (plus another $900 for the last month charge, and then a $500 deposit = $2,300) just to get themselves into a rental. Very few people have that kind of available money these days.

If hotels are filling at 80% (or even less), why not take one whole floor and rent it out by the month for a discounted price? If hotels have bedrooms large enough to accommodate a person comfortably, why not rent them out by the month? It seems like a win/win situation for hotel owners/managers and renters.

According to BocaNews.com, 58% of college graduates are now moving home because they can’t afford to set out on their own due to job and housing challenges. How can they move to new cities to find work if they can’t afford to get themselves into a housing situation in another city to apply for jobs?

It’s time we change the restricted way we rent housing in Santa Fe. These challenging times call for moving beyond our normal ways of doing things. Now I must investigate the zoning restrictions and perhaps become an advocate for loosening up on rental possibilities in this city. We must eliminate impossible financial restrictions on our rental housing, which people can no longer afford.