We want the Tiny Homes Village on the grounds of the Albuquerque Indian Center to be a success. The need for transitional housing in the Metro is undisputed, and the concept of easing the unhoused into 120-square-foot colorful homes with communal buildings for showering, laundry and cooking is an innovative approach.
Unfortunately, so far the $5 million project on Texas SE between Central and Zuni, has been an utter disappointment. With 30 stand-alone homes and a capacity for 40 people, the village that opened in February 2021 has never had more than eight residents at a time. Currently, there are just four residents, three less than the original Village People.
Now, village administrators want to redirect $500,000 in county money to cover casework, around-the-clock staff and security and to defray operational costs.
Village manager Carolyn Chavez says the village’s operational money is enough for the current number of villagers but “(a)s we scale up we obviously just need to scale up that funding as well,” she says.
That’s confusing on two levels: First, how can adding a few residents to an existing system require a half-million dollars in operational funding? Second, just what is the operational budget, how is it scaled to occupancy, and didn’t the original $5 million and/or the current county budget cover some operational costs? While Chavez says the county is hoping to ramp up operations, officials initially predicted the village would be fully occupied by July 2021.
A county spokesman said in November finding acceptable village residents may have been too hard because of stringent requirements. Chavez says that prompted a reassessment process now being finalized. A requirement for people with addictions to be in recovery for 30 days is gone. But guidelines disqualifying registered sex offenders, those found guilty of sex crimes and those with extreme behavioral or mental health issues that prevent them from living independently remain in place, as does the requirement residents agree to participate in a host of chores.
Chavez says village administrators are waiting to review 65 resident applications until additional funds are allocated (FYI last year at least 150 were reviewed and many rejected). So if the half-million dollars isn’t redirected from the county’s Behavioral Health Initiative, there can only ever be less than a handful of villagers?
Meanwhile, why, all of a sudden, does the county’s Behavioral Health Initiative require only half of its $1 million allocation for community engagement teams?
Charlie Verploegh, the Behavioral Health Initiative’s assistant director, says “we realized we just don’t need a full million to run community engagement teams, although we would love to have that much. … The Tiny Homes Village really needs (the money), so we’re moving it.”
Voter approval of a gross receipts tax spurred the creation of the Behavioral Health Initiative in 2015. “Over the past five years, the BHI tax has helped fund multiple initiatives, including mobile crisis teams, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, the Resource Reentry Program, Community Connections supportive housing, Youth Transitional Living services, Reduction of Adverse Childhood Experiences, suicide prevention, behavioral health training and education, Peer Case Management, Peer Support Drop-In Centers and most recently, the Crisis Stabilization Unit located on the CARE Campus,” stated a July 2020 Journal guest column from County Manager Julie Morgas Baca and UNM Hospital CEO Kate Becker.
That all sounds good, and we understand the community’s needs are many and far outstrip current services. But that makes it even more important to spend wisely, and without some serious number crunching the Tiny Homes Village appears to be a money pit. County leaders need to ask the hard questions: Where did the initial $5 million go? How exactly will the extra $500,000 be spent? And will it bring in more residents?
Taxpayers and supporters of Tiny Homes Village need solid answers to those questions to stay on board.
This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.