Housing project divides county commissioners - Albuquerque Journal

Housing project divides county commissioners

A discussion about Bernalillo County’s Tiny Home Village turned philosophical last week as elected officials opined about how government agencies should – and should not – address homelessness.

County Commissioner Walt Benson cast the lone vote against allocating $500,000 annually to the transitional living project to cover staff and provide support to residents grappling with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and more. Benson argued that the county was “throwing good money after bad” since the village in Southeast Albuquerque has so far failed to fill its available spots. While it can accommodate up to 40 people, it currently has four residents – a situation some critics have blamed on a requirement that people who apply for a spot be clean and sober.

Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, who supported the new funding stream, said the admission standards are too stringent and it is important to relax them.

“We’re talking about drug addiction – (for) people who don’t have that in their family and have never dealt with, that’s almost impossible,” he said. “I get it, and I understand (Benson’s) frustration. … That’s why it’s not working – we’re not meeting them where their addiction is. We expect them to be us, and they can’t be us.”

But Benson said the county had its priorities mixed up, arguing that initiatives like the Tiny Home Village and the contemplated safe outdoor spaces where people can sleep in approved campsites are “enabling … sanctioning … and protecting” homelessness. At the same time, he said, “folks paying their taxes” are leaving.

“We’re incentivizing the wrong things; we’re not incentivizing hard work, responsibility, being responsible taxpayers, being responsible members of our community,” Benson said. “We’re saying, ‘All right, everybody who does all that, great, we don’t want to hear you. We want your tax money, and we’re going to spend it and support all the crime and destruction in our beautiful city.'”

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley – who helped spearhead the Tiny Home Village – had the final comment before the vote. She challenged the notion that there were too many resources for people living on the streets, a population she said was likely only going to increase given the mounting disparity between wages and housing costs. She said she would not “stand in judgment” of people living in poverty and that too many people complain about seeing homelessness but often reject potential solutions “in their backyard.”

“Incentivizing homelessness? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anything like that,” she said. “If we incentivize anything, it’s usually businesses to help create jobs. … What I think we are doing – and this is my approach – is (to) approach from a sense of compassion for people who have nothing. Nothing.”

She joined Quezada, Charlene Pyskoty and Adriann Barboa in approving $500,000 each year.

NET GAINS: The city of Albuquerque says New Mexico United has now paid its outstanding bill.

The city earlier this month had to issue a second invoice to the professional soccer team for some of the public costs associated with transitioning Isotopes Park between baseball games and United games. United owed specifically for the city’s removal and reinstallation of safety netting along the left- and right-field lines throughout the 2021 season. While needed for baseball, the soccer team and its fans had complained the netting at the city-owned park would hurt the soccer-viewing experience.

As the Journal recently reported, the first bill for $70,878 was not paid by the Feb. 19 due date.

But a city official said last week that United had paid after the city sent a second invoice.

Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com


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