LAS CRUCES – Voters will have an opportunity this fall to approve funding for a new fire station on the northeast side, expansion of an East Mesa sports complex, city park improvements and projects that increase the city’s affordable housing supply.
With a 7-0 vote, city councilors approved a resolution Monday which sets a $23 million slate of general obligation bond questions for the 2022 general election.
General obligation bond financing is a method intended to fund city projects that have no other source of funding. The funding is obtained through the city’s issuance of bonds which are paid back through a temporary increase in property taxes.
In 2018, voters approved a $35.6 million slate of GO bond projects. To keep property taxes at the levels they were raised to as a result of the 2018 election, city voters can approve a maximum of $23 million in new bond projects.
During its Aug. 1 meeting, the city council approved four bond questions for the November ballot that total $23 million, meaning that if all four questions pass, property taxes will remain at their current level.
This case, the city is asking voters to fund GO bond projects in the following amounts.
- $10 million to acquire, plan, design, construct, and equip a new fire station north of US Highway 70 and east of Interstate 25.
- $5 million to continue to expand the East Mesa Public Recreation Complex, which is currently under construction.
- $6 million to provide resources to plan, design, construct, acquire, and preserve affordable housing for low to moderate income households, including acquisition of necessary land, utilizing the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
- $2 million to renovate and improve existing parks and recreational facilities.
The council resolution originally proposed a $5 million affordable housing ballot question.
Numerous representatives from a coalition pushing for a GO bond-funded investment in affordable housing called on the council to increase the request to an amount which had been originally proposed.
The coalition initially asked the city to dedicate a maximum $6 million of the $23 million ballot initiative toward housing before the council tentatively agreed to the $5 million proposal.
“Let’s start building environments where individuals and families can not only survive, but thrive and become contributors to our society,” said coalition member Rosa Morales, a retired social worker.
“This is to help families, my family, other families in this community,” said coalition member Daniel Sanchez, an organizer with NM CAFé.
Hearing their concerns, District 4 Councilor Johana Bencomo called for a $1 million increase in the affordable housing bond question. Other councilors soon voiced agreement and the council resolution was amended unanimously. The extra million was gained by reducing the amount on the East Mesa sports complex question.
“The reality is that housing is, if not the greatest challenge we are facing, one of the top two,” Bencomo said.
The council also amended the measure to specifically state in the housing question the funding would go to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and it could be further amended if staff determines an issue arises from using GO bond money in the housing fund.
A few attendees spoke against the affordable housing question, though their criticisms stemmed from issues at the Desert Hope Apartments, an affordable complex for the recently homeless. Tenants of the complex have complained about poor management since the apartments opened, and residents who live nearby have complained about the complex has made the neighborhood less safe.
Efforts have been underway to rectify those reported issues, which include an increase in security, the hiring of a property management firm, and the dedication of additional resources by the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope. The property is owned by the Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority.
“It seems irresponsible to me to fund further, similar projects until we know that this situation (at Desert Hope) can be fixed,” said Sarah Smith, a local organizer with the Free People of the Southwest. On Friday, Smith sent a mass email to group members which falsely equated Desert Hope with all affordable housing and which called on members to oppose the bond question and speak against it.
On Monday, Smith criticized the housing question for being vague about the projects that would be funded.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima clarified that the affordable housing funding was not specifically for permanent supportive housing. Desert Hope is a permanent supportive housing complex.
“I hope the organization that is putting out these mass emails knows that Desert Hope was used for homeless residents,” the mayor said. “The affordable housing question is for our residents who meet lower income guidelines and not necessarily specifically homeless residents.”
“I like that we are explaining how broad affordable housing is and how many folks will be helped by affordable housing,” said District 3 Councilor Becki Graham, who represents the district which includes Desert Hope. “There is no asterisk for me in affordable housing. It is for our unhoused residents, it is for our families, for our veterans, for our seniors.”
More:Looking for affordable housing in Las Cruces? It’s an ‘unforgiving’ market.
Graham said she and other councilors had received “disturbing” emails from opponents of the housing question which tied the issue to ongoing discourse around homelessness.
Natalie Green, the city’s housing and neighborhood services manager, said the affordable housing bond item would boost the city’s the ability to provide matching funds for affordable housing developments if approved.
“I shudder when I hear messages of ‘some people’ and ‘those people,'” said Rev. Carolyn Wilkins, a local minister and housing coalition member. “I shudder when I hear a conversation about affordable housing assuming that people are homeless, because that really shows a disconnect between people’s understanding of what things cost today, what a home costs to stay in, and what people are getting.”
City residents will be able to vote on each of the bond questions in the general election Nov. 8.
Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.