Home building: Parade's end: An interview with SFAHBA director, Miles Conway

Oct. 1—On the heels of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association's 31st annual Haciendas — A Parade of Homes, I talked with its executive director, the indefatigable Miles Conway. I wanted to ask not just about the Parade, which included homes at every price point, but about other issues as well. (Full disclosure: I am on the Parade committee, and I am an SFAHBA board member.)

Even though I am a board member, I don't know the mission statement of the Santa Fe Parade of Homes. Do you?

One didn't exist on paper. We sought out the "mission statement" for Haciendas this year by looking back at what the past president, George Salvatore, wrote in Haciendas magazine in 1993 about our first-ever Parade. In his "welcome" to the Parade message, George wrote about how pleased association members were to be showcasing a wide variety of styles and price ranges of homes. Honoring these Haciendas roots from 1993, the association was thrilled to showcase 20 homes this year. It featured everything from affordable apartments to iconic and traditional casitas, and modern and contemporary marvels, to the highest echelon of what is possible in today's custom-built-home environment.

The Santa Fe Parade of Homes has been happening every August for 31 years. How was it different this year?

We had some firsts for the 2023 Parade. With a dearth of housing on the market at any price level and an unprecedented housing-afford-ability crisis playing out before our eyes, the association took pride in showcasing homes that exemplified all the various ways our city's housing is growing: affordable condominiums, market-rate apartments, historic renovations, rural ranchitos, first-time buyer family homes and luxury custom homes. This Parade had a bit of everything.

Parade goers pony up $20 per ticket, primarily for the opportunity to tour the cutting-edge, high-end homes. Our builders and their design teams relish the chance to show off how they're pushing the envelope in terms of design, innovative technology, materials and finish treatments. We had those homes this year, to be sure, and with young builders leading the way! Parade goers loved seeing homes that were within reach of a working person's budget, yet boasted a ton of creativity.

At the Parade wrap-up meeting, there was a good discussion about making the judging more transparent. I am all for that. How do you feel about it?

For each of the 31 years of Haciendas, we've tried to perfect a model for judging homes and bestowing awards. In certain ways, this old model is inherently flawed. Judges, who are recruited locally and statewide from the building, interior design and realty industries, travel in groups to all the homes in one day. Then they debate late into the afternoon and evening who the winners will be. There is always concern by builders, who question if they're given a fair shake at winning awards.

This year, we gave serious consideration to eliminating the awards altogether. The committee is still in discussion, and in 2024, I anticipate we'll take an entirely new approach. Ideas being fleshed out include a new way of valuating and grouping homes into awards categories that emphasize a per-square-foot investment on the home instead of an overall market-rate valuation. This could mean a large custom home might end up competing head to head with a smaller home, depending on what level of craftsmanship and finishes the builds achieve. There will likely be far fewer awards, and the idea of announcing them prior to the gala is very popular.

We're also playing with ideas of anonymous judges touring the homes alongside Parade goers and utilizing a more numerical, objective scoring matrix. How you reduce design elements and the emotionality of a home's overall character to a number is still beyond me, but we're discussing it. The essential goal is for all Parade builders to feel sure they've been given a fair shake and that their homes are properly grouped among their peers. The awards are important. Numerous association builders have told me directly that our city's finest custom homebuilders built their businesses on Parade and the prestige of the awards. We have work ahead of us to safeguard the prestige of these awards.

Do you think there is anything the association can do better with regard to the Parade?

Ideas to enhance and improve the Parade are endless. I think we've tested out some pretty popular ideas over the past few years. The audio experience in partnership with New Mexico Performing Arts Society was something people enjoyed, and the extraordinary community tours were groundbreaking. We were the first ones to create a hard-hat construction tour of the recently opened Vladem Contemporary. While I think the Parade can grow and improve in so many ways, the focus will remain on our builders and their design teams.

What else does SFAHBA do for the Santa Fe community?

Unquestionably, this Parade is our association's most important revenue-generating event of the year. The money raised funds for all the other behind-the-scenes work, which is essential to our homebuilding, design and construction industry professionals. Our association doesn't exist simply to exist: there is work to do on behalf of our industry members.

People don't realize how hard our association worked to designate the homebuilding industry as an essential industry during the pandemic. That allowed leaking roofs and broken windows to be repaired, plumbing and electrical work to be done, and complete home construction to continue, thanks to the governor's orders.

This coming 2024 legislative session, we'll take a run at legislation for an infrastructure fund to help fund streets, curbs and gutters; to bring utilities to developments; and to help lower overall costs of new residential housing.

Our association weighs in on the issues of building codes, urban and rural zoning, development and the politics of how our neighborhoods grow. Energy efficiency is a huge topic these days. We seek to balance the need to keep construction costs low yet increase energy efficiency. The built environment generates 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. Of those total emissions, building operations are responsible for 27% annually, while building and infrastructure materials and construction (typically referred to as "embodied carbon") are responsible for an additional 13% annually.

I will leave readers with a perspective on how our city is growing and the position this association takes. In the '70s, a group of kids from Chicago moved to Santa Fe and built (one-hundred percent with hand tools!) a Pueblo-style com-pound on East Alameda. It was in the heart of Santa Fe. The units were modestly sized, people lived close together and a whole community ethos was built into the DNA of the project. It still stands today, and it's a model of the kind of housing people are hungry for and which reflects the specialness of Santa Fe Style construction. Today, builders stand a better chance of being approved to con-struct a three-story, 300-unit apartment complex on the outer ring of the city than a small-scale creative project, like the Alameda compound. We see these massive developments springing up faster than city infrastructure can keep up with, and Santa Feans are disenchanted with the way in which our city is growing. Sprawl is bad for water and energy efficiency; traffic congestion increases; and dependency on commuting increases. Primarily, though, people feel we're losing the charm of Santa Fe. Meanwhile, in the heart of our community, creative builders and developers (akin to those Chicago kids) who have visions for a renewed Santa Fe that reflects our history and culture, are being derailed by neighborhood N.I.M.B.Y. dissent and the glacial pace of city hall.

The city's Planning and Land Use Department needs resources or third-party contractors to help them move more nimbly. They also need to use their authority to say no to special interest groups that stand in the way of smart growth.

We cannot keep building endlessly. We need to look within our existing neighborhoods to create a Santa Fe for tomorrow that feels like one we remember. Good ideas that could boost the walkability, affordability, livability and Santa Fe Style sensibility of our built environment are dying. As long as I'm at the helm of this association, we will be the voice for builders, designers and community members who are bold enough to see a higher path.

Home building: Parade's end: An interview with SFAHBA director, Miles Conway