Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Saying they were tired of having to cater to homeless people and the problems that they bring, a large crowd overwhelmingly told county officials that they are not interested in having a tiny homes village for people dealing with homelessness in their neighborhoods.
Nearly 300 people packed a meeting room at the Manzano Mesa Multigenerational Center on Thursday evening for the first in a series of meetings to familiarize people with the tiny homes concept and explain the six sites that are on the table for development. Five of those sites are south of Interstate 40 and east of Louisiana.
The crowd, mostly from neighborhoods in the Southeast Heights, erupted into booing when County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley was introduced as a driving force behind the tiny homes village. Exasperated, she said she was leaving but was persuaded to stay.
It didn’t get much better after that as individuals from the contentious crowd, one after another, stood at a podium to denounce the project.
“I think it’s a horrible idea. I really do,” said Carol Schuster. “They’ve been trying to fix up Route 66 so that it will be aesthetically pleasing. This will not add to it by any means. These tiny homes look like a bunch of portable outhouses. I think it will lower property values and possibly increase crime in the area.”
Karen Little questioned why nearly all the sites were clustered in that portion of the Southeast Heights. “For once, let them pick someplace else,” she said to applause.
The 116-square-foot homes are estimated to cost $17,000 to $20,000 per unit. Between 25 and 35 will be built on a chassis. They will be insulated, have heating and cooling and contain a bed, desk, chair and storage space. The units will be wired for electricity but not plumbing. Restrooms, showers, laundry and a kitchen will be in communal buildings. The money to build them, along with the infrastructure, will come from a $2 million general bond county voters approved in November 2016.
A number of people commented that they thought the cost of the homes was too high. “We can buy a house trailer with 462 square feet for the same amount of money – and it comes with a kitchen and a bath,” said Walter Punke. He also questioned the lack of a budget itemizing how the $2 million set aside for the project would be spent. “To me, that’s just ramming it down our throats.”
“We do have empathy for the homeless but this is not the right project,” said Pauline Bruskas. “Some of the numbers just don’t add up.”
According to her math, if the homes cost $20,000 each, the 35 units would total $700,000. Based on that, the square footage cost for each of the 116 square foot units comes out to $172. “I’m blessed to live in Four Hills, but I do not have $172 a square foot,” she said.
Norma Johnson told the crowd that for the 25 years she’s lived in the Southeast Heights, she has put up with increased crime, and the only investment in her neighborhood has been “dollar stores, liquor stores and $5 pizzas.”
“And now you want to bring a homeless village. You want to bring something into my neighborhood? Bring a police substation,” she said.
Kristi Adams lives in the Four Hills area and her mother lives at Las Colinas retirement village, adjacent to one proposed site. Adams said she regularly donates money to local homeless shelters and is aware of the issues surrounding this population.
“I don’t think this is the right location because it’s far from the resources where they can get food and shelter and training.” Most of those providers are located north of Downtown between First and Third streets.
“When you look at the list of proposed locations that were not selected, one of them is at 1916 Fourth Street. The reason stated on the list to explain why it was not suitable was because it was located near another day shelter for the homeless and there was ‘concern about safety and migration from that shelter to a homeless village.’ So if a homeless shelter is concerned about safety and migration, why would we not be concerned about safety?”
One of the lonely voices in the wilderness came from Matt Thomson, who lives northwest of the State Fairgrounds.
“This is the kind of thing that needs to go forward and people need to step up,” he said. “It’s the right size and I like that it’s a locked community, so people can’t just wander in and harass the residents.”
The crowd groaned when Thomson suggested that “everyone should treat it as an educational opportunity and be a little more open and a little more welcoming.”
County Commissioner O’Malley said after the meeting, “I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.”
“There is a rise in crime and people are very fearful. They made it very clear that they blame the homeless. I’m disappointed that people talk about the homeless in such derogatory terms.” O’Malley also expressed concern that many in the crowd may not have understood the project fully and how it could have a stabilizing effect on the neighborhood.
The bottom line, she said, is that “the problem is not going to go away, and if we don’t do anything it will just get worse.”