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Searchligt New Mexico Magazine
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© 2019 Searchlight New Mexico.  |  All rights reserved. For republishing terms, see Guidelines. 

Images by Don Usner

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

Nowhere left to go

Manuel Sandoval ends every day the same way – sauntering along streets he knows by heart but cannot name. It’s a habit that has kept him young, he says, despite his 89 years.   

 

“Oh, I haven’t lived here for too long, just about 59 years,” said Sandoval, who carries himself like a much younger man. His face is clean-shaven, his appearance well-kempt. His front yard on Fourth Street projects the same modesty, nestled in the southeast corner of the triangle formed by St. Michael’s Drive, Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive in Santa Fe. 

 

Welcome to Hopewell Mann, where in Sandoval’s words, “Everybody just takes care of everybody.” It’s one of the most affordable – and most impoverished – neighborhoods in a city increasingly characterized by second and third homes that go unoccupied for months at a time. 

 

Hopewell Mann has all the signs of a neighborhood on the verge of gentrification and the displacement of many longtime residents.  It’s close to downtown; boasts a growing collection of trendy cafes, bars and restaurants; and – like everywhere in Santa Fe – is seeing a sharp rise in housing costs. 

 

As one recent study put it, gentrification and displacement happen when a neighborhood undergoes continued economic growth, through rising property values and increasing property development, without corresponding income growth. That’s the current state of affairs in Hopewell Mann, a neighborhood composed of about 1,800 houses and apartments – three-quarters of them renter-occupied. 

 

Back in 1966, when Sandoval bought his house on Fourth Street, it was worth about $7,500 — the equivalent of about $61,000 in current dollars. Born and raised in the little town of Springer, he moved to Hopewell Mann in order to be close to his job as a washing-machine repairman for Sears. He and his wife, Rose Marie Sandoval, raised their two sons, now 58 and 60, in that house. Manuel E. Jr., the elder son who works as a barber, moved back there after Rose Marie passed away six years ago.

 

Today, that two-bedroom, one-bath house today is valued at $151,000, according to the Santa Fe County Assessor’s Office. 

 

But as housing costs have grown, the average household income in the neighborhood has declined by about 18 percent, adjusting for inflation – from the equivalent of about $38,000 in 2000 to $31,000 in 2017, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). 

 

These days, a one-bedroom apartment typically rents for more than $800 a month. That’s significantly less than what the same square footage goes for on just the other side of St. Francis Drive, but way more than what most people in this neighborhood can afford. The net effect is that two-thirds of Hopewell Mann residents are burdened by their rent, according to the ACS; of those, half are “severely burdened.”

Households that spend more than 30 percent of their incomes for rent or mortgage payments are considered cost-burdened, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning they have little money left over for necessities like food, clothing, transportation and medical care. Those that spend more than 50 percent are considered severely burdened and at risk of becoming homeless.

 

“Hopewell Mann is the poorest neighborhood in the city,” said Tomás Rivera, cofounder of Chainbreaker Collective, a local economic- and environmental-justice organization that wants to preserve the neighborhood for the residents who call it home. “It is very ripe for being gentrified.” 

 

Rivera is right. According to the ACS, Hopewell Mann has the lowest median income of any other tract in the city, at just $31,576 in 2017.

 

Rivera lives in the heart of Hopewell Mann, in the same thick-walled, 900-square-foot adobe house that his grandfather built and where his father was raised. He started Chainbreaker in 2004, envisioning it as a community bike-sharing organization to address transportation problems. Four years later, the organization made housing one of its primary targets after the 2008 financial crisis hit Santa Fe. 

 

“People were being thrown out of their homes. Gas prices were up to $4 a gallon, and a lot of people came to us and said, Hey, we need transportation more,” Rivera said. “The reason we need to expand bus service is because we can't afford to live in Santa Fe anymore. So we're getting pushed farther and farther out.”

 

Chainbreaker scored a political victory in 2015 when the Santa Fe City Council unanimously passed its “Resident’s Bill of Rights” resolution and, in doing so, adopting the group’s five pillars of housing justice, chief among them housing affordability.

 

The resolution had little effect. On the whole, housing costs have jumped by 16 percent in Santa Fe over the last four years – 14 percent in Hopewell Mann. 

 

Gentrification also occurs first, when a low-income area experiences sudden economic growth. The changes are clear, as neighborhood amenities improve and development takes off. The next step is less visible. The cost of living goes up while incomes stay the same or fall, and eventually the original residents can be displaced by the rising costs.


Gentrification and displacement go hand in hand, though gentrification is easier to discern, according to American Neighborhood Change in the 21st Century, a national report from the University of Minnesota published in April of this year.

Lisa Adler, a self-employed artist, speaks in the kitchen of her home. Adler lives just two doors down from Sandoval.

Don J. Usner / Searchlight New Mexico 

New arrivals

Though Hopewell Mann — with a population of 3,500 — remains mostly Hispanic, those numbers are changing. In 2009, 70 percent of residents identified as Hispanic; the latest figures from the ACS show that the percentage has dropped to 66 percent.

 

Artists Lisa Adler and Don Cannell helped augur that change. Eighteen years ago, the couple moved in just two doors down from Sandoval’s tidy stucco home. Adler was, at the time, pregnant with their second daughter; the older girl was 3, and the artists were looking for a place that could serve as both studio and home. 

They stayed because of the atmosphere and the freedom it gives them. It’s the kind of place where you can get away with working on a two-story sculpture in the driveway, and “no one wants to kill you,” she said with a wry smile. 

 

Adler is friendly with her neighbors, including Sandoval and his son, Manuel E. Jr., who occasionally cuts her hair. 

 

But she is also sensitive to the perception that the arrival of artists like herself often signal the first signs of gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods like Hopewell Mann.

 

“You are probably looking at me like I am part of the problem,” she said. “But when we moved here, it was what we could afford.”

 

These days, the neighborhood of Hopewell Mann is being eyed by developers, who are fighting over a 64-acre parcel of land just a few blocks south of Sandoval’s drought-tolerant garden. The city-owned property, known as the Midtown campus and appraised at just over $36 million, has been largely vacant since the Santa Fe University of Art and Design shuttered its doors in April 2018.

Five local design firms have been asked by the City of Santa Fe, in partnership with the current Midtown tenant, the Santa Fe Art Institute, to submit proposals for the property’s redevelopment. According to one proposal, titled Midtown Fusion, the site would offer mixed-use developments, including new commercial and living spaces, creating “an innovation district that enables economic development focused on creative entrepreneurialship.”

The next step is an open request for bids from real estate developers, “that contribute toward achieving the vision and goals for the redevelopment of the Midtown Santa Fe site,” according to the bid. 

 

Whatever proposal is accepted will surely affect Las Palomas Apartments, an affordable housing project that sits on Hopewell Street, just on the other side St. Michael’s. It’s one of the last few such projects left in the neighborhood.

Produced by LittleGlobe for Presente!, a multi-disciplinary collaborative, in partnership with Searchlight New Mexico.

 

At 70, Linda Martinez lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the complex, colloquially referred to as “the projects.” The apartments are infested with cockroaches, she said, and her third-floor walkup is difficult to reach without an elevator. “So I didn’t really want to move here,” she said. “It was the only place I could find.” 

Martinez said she previously spent two months living in her car, and before that, living in a long-term motel. The apartment complex where she currently lives raises the rent every year by $25 dollars a month. Since moving in several years ago, she said her rent has grown to $700 per month. 

 

A dues-paying member of Chainbreaker, she worries that she will not be able to afford her rent if it goes any higher. “This time, I don’t have any other place to go,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do.”

 

Hopewell Mann is not the first neighborhood in Santa Fe to grapple with such forces. The downtown and Canyon Road neighborhoods have each been transformed over the past few decades, to the point where they now reflect the highest incomes, home values and white populations in the city.

City councilor Renee Villarreal talks with a woman doing volunteer cleanup in an empty lot next to Chainbreaker in Hopewell Mann. Don J. Usner / Searchlight New Mexico

 

“We’ve had a history of displacement and gentrification over decades in our city,” said Renee Villarreal, a Santa Fe city councilor who grew up just on the other side of St. Francis Drive, opposite Hopewell Mann. She remembers the deeply rooted familial bonds of her neighborhood and hopes to preserve that culture by ensuring that her former neighbors are not displaced.

 

These days, Villarreal is throwing her weight into discussions around the development of the Midtown campus, which she believes presents a unique opportunity that the city hasn’t necessarily taken in the past, she said.  An opportunity for community-based development that will be “inclusive of the people that will be most impacted.”