Jen­nifer Levin dis­cov­ers the rent is too damn high in Santa Fe

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THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH: HOUSE-HUNT­ING IN SANTA FE

Can you af­ford to live in Santa Fe? If you are sin­gle and/or make un­der $50,000 a year, then you might find your op­tions rather lim­ited. There is an old for­mula that says one month’s rent should be equal to or less than one week’s take-home pay for your house­hold, but these days, find­ing some­thing at a rea­son­able price that also suits your needs — space and lay­out, as well as lo­ca­tion — is get­ting more dif­fi­cult. By and large, Santa Fe is still more af­ford­able than many other cities, but rents are quickly ris­ing, and the squeeze is upon us.

There are var­i­ous rea­sons for this near-dire sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing fewer homes avail­able for long-term rental due to the tempt­ing fi­nan­cial boon of let­ting one’s prop­erty for short-term stays through Airbnb or other va­ca­tion rental web­sites. There are also more renters than there were a decade ago — in­clud­ing those who hit the mar­ket af­ter be­ing fore­closed upon dur­ing the hous­ing crash, along with ten­ants who now see rent­ing as prefer­able to po­ten­tially get­ting in over their heads on a mort­gage. It’s not un­usual to find one-bed­room apart­ments in the down­town area go­ing for $1,200 to $1,500 a month, which al­most no young pro­fes­sion­als with start­ing salaries in this town can af­ford alone. (Many mid­dle-aged cou­ples deal­ing with stag­nant wages might also find it dif­fi­cult, as would re­tired cou­ples on fixed in­comes.)

If you head west of St. Fran­cis Drive, you can get a two- or three­bed­room home for that price or even far less, so neigh­bor­hood does make a dif­fer­ence, but for sin­gle par­ents bring­ing in $600 or $800 a week, that’s prob­a­bly not a ton of com­fort. Many two- and three-bed­rooms in the Rai­l­yard Dis­trict, Casa Solana, and South Capi­tol can range from $1,800 to well over $2,000 a month. Though some of them are exquisitely out­fit­ted with tile coun­ters and hard­wood floors, just as of­ten they are in dis­re­pair, with old, dirt-col­ored car­pet­ing in the bed­rooms and stained linoleum in the kitchen.

I spent my sum­mer look­ing for and mov­ing into a new house. My hus­band and I found what we needed in a very short amount of time, but it re­quired ab­di­cat­ing most other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties so that I could sit at my com­puter, re­fresh­ing Craigslist ev­ery 10 min­utes and in­quir­ing af­ter ev­ery re­motely promis­ing ad. Now that we are set­tled in a gem that I feel lucky to have won, given that other des­per­ate ap­pli­cants of­fered my land­lord three months’ rent in cash up front, among other bribe-like sce­nar­ios, I have con­tin­ued to reg­u­larly check rental list­ings on­line. What I want to know is, what kind of city does Santa Fe want to be? Is this re­ally the “City Dif­fer­ent”? Are we “#NMTrue” to the ideals this state has proudly put forth about it­self in mar­ket­ing ef­forts go­ing back a hun­dred years — claims of be­ing small and ec­cen­tric, at­ten­tive to the needs of a di­verse and in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic pop­u­lace, many of whom are un­in­ter­ested in the rat race of 60-hour work weeks just to make ends meet? Or are we no dif­fer­ent from the cities peo­ple move here to es­cape, where land­lords take renters for all they’re worth, just be­cause the mar­ket says they can? Here are some sober­ing anec­dotes from around the coun­try: My friend An­gela was born and raised in the As­to­ria neigh­bor­hood of Queens, New York. She works in project man­age­ment, and her hus­band works in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. They need a full two weeks of her hus­band’s salary to cover their $2,730 rent for a twobed­room apart­ment — an amount that ex­ceeds her en­tire monthly salary. An­gela blames creep­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion from Man­hat­tan and Brook­lyn and told me they will likely have to move out of As­to­ria in the next year or two. Near Phoenix, Liz, a public-school teacher, and her hus­band, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer, both work in the city but can­not af­ford to live there. They have three chil­dren. Their rent in the sub­urbs is one week of her hus­band’s pay, so they live within their means, but she said, “We would be home­less or starv­ing if I had to do it on my own.” Cather­ine, who works for a tech com­pany, was pay­ing over $1,000 a month to share a three-bed­room apart­ment in LA with room­mates; that per­cent­age has come down now that she lives in Palo Alto, in a 725-square-foot one-bed­room, for $2,200 a month, which she shares with her part­ner, who earns six fig­ures as a soft­ware en­gi­neer. Marika, a dance teacher and chore­og­ra­pher in San Fran­cisco, had one of the most alarm­ing rent sto­ries of all: “One of my stu­dents just got a great deal — she’s pay­ing $700 a month to share a room with two other girls.” Say­ing that cities like New York and San Fran­cisco have al­ways been ex­pen­sive is an easy way of pre­tend­ing Santa Fe doesn’t also have this rep­u­ta­tion or that the prob­lem can’t get equally out of hand here. A twenty-eight-year-old col­league who moved here af­ter liv­ing in New York told me she could rent a room in a nice apart­ment in Brook­lyn for roughly the cost of a di­lap­i­dated stu­dio with­out a full kitchen in Santa Fe. She has had trouble

find­ing other young pro­fes­sion­als to live with her and said most of the bet­ter house-share op­tions mean liv­ing with empty nesters who are two or three times her age. Though fi­nan­cially life would be eas­ier if she lived with a ro­man­tic part­ner, she saw peo­ple in New York force re­la­tion­ships just to save on rent, and she doesn’t want to do that. As part of my re­search for this col­umn, I’ve been on­line ev­ery day try­ing to find her a stu­dio or one-bed­room that costs no more than $800 with util­i­ties in­cluded and dogs al­lowed. I haven’t found much.

Al­though I’m cer­tainly no ex­pert, I have spent enough time this sum­mer look­ing for rental houses that I now have some ex­pe­ri­ence and wis­dom to of­fer. Here are few tips for Pasa readers on the hunt:

▼ The clas­si­fied ads on the Santa Fe New Mex­i­can and prop­erty man­age­ment web­sites, along with Craigslist.org, are your best sources for find­ing rentals. Be­ware: Craigslist is rife with scams. Do not give out per­sonal in­for­ma­tion be­fore you see the prop­erty in ques­tion, es­pe­cially if it al­ready sounds too good to be true.

▼ There is no one on Craigslist eval­u­at­ing the truth of what’s posted there. Be aware that, for some rea­son, many of the most ex­pen­sive rental homes listed are proudly touted as “be­low mar­ket value.”

▼ If a de­cently sized free-stand­ing two-bed­room house costs less than $1,000 a month, start ask­ing ques­tions, be­cause some­thing is prob­a­bly wrong. For in­stance, does the land­lord ex­pect to do his laundry in the ten­ant’s house? Do you have full use of the prop­erty, or is the garage filled with the owner’s late mother’s fur­ni­ture?

▼ To find the gems, broaden your search. Look at the south and west sides, and con­sider Po­joaque, Pecos, and other lo­cales that might re­quire a com­mute. Liv­ing in or near down­town is nice, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of the Santa Fe ex­pe­ri­ence.

▼ Con­sider one of the larger apart­ment com­plexes. Many have been ren­o­vated in re­cent years, with open plans and aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing lam­i­nate floor­ing in­stead of the old beige and baby-blue shag that used to be their hall­mark, and they of­ten of­fer pools and other ameni­ties.

▼ Be­fore signing a lease with a prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany, go on­line to find out what other ten­ants say about them. Some charge ex­or­bi­tant rental ap­pli­ca­tion fees, some don’t main­tain their prop­er­ties af­ter a lease is signed, and oth­ers sim­ply over­charge for units that should be big­ger or nicer for the price.

▼ Stick to your bud­get, keep re­fresh­ing ad web­sites, and make your in­quiries im­me­di­ately. It will help keep rents down if peo­ple stop even con­tact­ing the ad posters for un­fairly over­priced homes. Some­times, you can even watch this hap­pen. This sum­mer, I saw a $1,000 one-bed­room in the Rai­l­yard that didn’t al­low dogs drop to $900 with pets OK af­ter be­ing posted on the site for about a month. A three-bed­room off West Alameda Street, orig­i­nally posted for $1,600, dropped to $1,400 in just one week.

Good luck. I sin­cerely hope you find the Santa Fe rental of your dreams, and that you have enough left over for lux­u­ries like car pay­ments, emer­gency den­tal surgery, and your kids’ school sup­plies.

CHARM­ING CASITA $2,60 0 / M O N T H

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