On Friday, September 12, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller vetoed a city council measure that reallocated $1.25 million that was originally designated for Safe Outdoor Spaces by the City Council in the 2022-2023 city budget enacted by the council on May 16. It is Keller’s 8th veto in 2022. The bill, which passed on a 5-4 vote, was sponsored by Republican Dan Lewis with the funding reallocated to the city’s Gateway Center Shelter for services supporting homeless veterans.
A “Safe Outdoor Space” is a lot, or a portion of a lot, developed to provide designated spaces for occupancy by tents, recreational vehicles, and/or light vehicles. A safe outdoor space are to offer social services and support facilities. The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) limits Safe Outdoor Space camps to 40 spots for tents and a total of 50 residents and makes them a temporary use where operators can run them for two years at a selected sites with the possibility of a single two-year extension.
Keller said this in his veto message:
“[This is a] sad political attempt to use the unhoused veteran community as a pretext to create another barrier to addressing our unhoused challenges with every tool available … [the city already] provides multiple resources for unhoused veterans. [ Diverting money from safe outdoor spaces will] undermine the ability [to ensure safe and proper staff and services] which are essential for successful operations and for successfully transitioning residents — including veterans — into longer-term housing.”
The veto is Keller’s second relating to “Safe Outdoor Spaces” within a month. On September 7, the council voted “NO” to override Keller’s veto of a one-year moratorium on the application process for “Safe Outdoor Spaces”. In order to override the veto, 6 YES votes were needed. The 4 who voted NO to override were Republican Trudy Jones who joined Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelcorn. Trudy Jones had voted with the majority when the moratorium initially passed 6-3 but changed her position and voted NO on the override.
APPEAL OF DAWN LEGACY POINT SOS APPROVALS
It was on August 8, that the City Planning Department approved the Dawn Legacy Point application for a Safe Outdoor Space homeless campsite at 1250 Menaul, NE, at Menaul and Interstate 25. The homeless tent camp will be for 40 woman who have been “victims of sex trafficking”.
The Dawn Legacy Point Safe Outdoor Space has been appealed by the following neighborhood association and businesses:
Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association
Albuquerque Boca Hotel Limited Partnership dba Crown Plaza Albuquerque
Greater ABQ Hotel & Lodging Association
The Stronghurst Improvement Association
The Reule LLC (Robert D Reule)
The City of Albuquerque Land Use Hearing Officer has scheduled a hearing on all 7 of the above appeal cases on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 at 9:00 am in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers at the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Center, One Civic Plaza NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102.
Businessman Brad Day, the consultant for The Dawn Legacy Point “Safe Outdoor Space”, said Dawn Legacy Pointe is acquiring the tents and other materials it needs to start moving onto the site if the appeals are denied and the project is allowed to go forwards. Sources have also confirmed the city has done work to prepare the site and has secured a building on the property.
HEADING HOME SECURES TWO SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES APPROVALS FROM PLANNNG DEPARTMENT
Albuquerque Heading Home is a New Mexico based non-profit and is a Housing First collaboration of public, private and non-profit organizations who united in 2011 to end homelessness for individuals who have been chronically homeless and are medically vulnerable. More than 800 individuals and their family members have been placed in permanent supportive housing since the Albuquerque Heading Home initiative started in 2011.
Heading Home has secured 2 separate “Safe Outdoor Space” authorizations from the City Planning Department. Heading Home already operates the city’s West Side Emergency Housing Center at 7440 Jim McDowell NW and the Albuquerque Opportunity Center at 715 Candelaria NE. They would be for individuals to sleep in vehicles, not tents. There are 12 planned spaces for the Candelaria location and 40 at the West Side Emergency Housing Center.
Heading Home CEO Steve Decker has said both of the Heading Home SOS spaces will need financial support but has not disclosed how much. Heading Home is seeking city funding to build fencing around the property and to help pay for staffing to operate the spaces. Decker added that even city funding is secured it will still take at least a month to build the necessary fence on Candelaria before any camping would be possible. Decker added that the homeless are already making inquiries and had this to say:
“We are getting phone calls with people asking when it will open — they want to get out of the Walmart parking lot.”
According to the 2022-2023 approved city budget for the Family Community Services, Heading Home has been awarded $3,291,805 in Emergency Shelter contracts, $480,000 in Homeless Support Services contracts and $360,000 in Outreach Services for homeless mentally ill for a total of $4,131,805. Heading Home has also been awarded the city contract to operate the new Gibson Gateway Shelter, but the exact amount of the contract has not been disclosed or reported upon by the news media outlets.
2022 “POINT IN TIME” SURVEY
Each year the “Point in Time” survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night in Albuquerque, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help understand the extent of homelessness at the city, state, regional and national levels.
The PIT count requires the use of the HUD definition of “homelessness”. PIT counts only people who are sleeping in a shelter, in a transitional housing program, or outside in places not meant for human habitation. Those people who are not counted are those who do not want to participate in the survey, who are sleeping in motels that they pay for themselves, or who are doubled up with family or friends.
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH) was contracted by the city to do the 2022 survey and it released the 2022 PIT report in August. This year, the PIT count and survey was taken on January 31, 2022. The PIT report is 40 pages long and includes graphs and pie charts outlining the statistics reported. You can review the entire report at this link:
The breakdown of homelessness on January 31, 2022 is as follows:
Emergency sheltered: 940
Transitional housing: 174
COMBINED TOTAL OF HOMELESS: 1,311
The 2022 point in time survey when compared to the surveys taken 2021, 2019 and 2017 is by far the better of the surveys given the depth of information provided when comes to individual and households of homeless, gender, age and ethnicity who are sheltered, in transitional housing, or who are unsheltered. The surveys taken together provide an in-depth analysis of the city’s homeless crisis.
The 2022 “Point In Time” homeless survey reported the number of homeless in the city is 1,311 with 940 in emergency shelters, 197 unsheltered and 174 in transitional housing. The survey found there are 256 fewer homeless in 2022 than in 2021.The 1,311 figures in the 2022 PIT report is the lowest number of unsheltered reported for the last 5 years. According to the 2022 PIT report there were 256 fewer homeless in January 2022 than in January 2021.
During the last 12 years, PIT yearly surveys have counted 1,300 to 2,000 homeless a year. The PIT survey statistics have never supported city or charitable provider claims that the city has upwards of 5,000 homeless. When PIT survey results are released, the city and providers quickly dismiss them as an “undercount”, likely because fewer homeless means less funding for the Family Community Services Department.
CITY’S FINANCIAL COMMITMENT TO HOMELESS
During the 2021-2022 fiscal year that ended June 10, 2022, the Family and Community Services Department and the Keller Administration spent upwards of $40 Million to assist the homeless or near homeless. The 2021-2022 adopted city budget for Family and Community Services Department provided for funding for emergency shelter contracts of $6,421,989, Homeless Support Contracts of $3,624,213, Mental Health Contracts totaling $4,378,104, and substance abuse contracts totaling $2,529,676 , affordable housing and community contracts totaling $18,191, 960.
The link to the adopted 2021-2022
Mayor Keller’s 2022-2023 approved budget that began on July 1, 2022, significantly increased the Family and Community Services budget by $24,353,064 to assist the homeless or near homeless by going from $35,145,851 to $59,498,915. $6,025,544 is allocated for emergency shelter contracts, $4,282,794 for homeless support services, $3,773,860 is allocated for for mental health contracts, $2,818,356 is allocated for total substance abuse contracts for counseling, $42,598,361 allocated total for affordable housing and community contracts with a major emphasis on permanent housing for the near homeless or homeless.
The link to the 2022-2023 approved budget is here:
EPC RECOMMENDS REPEAL OF SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES
It was on June 22 that legislation was introduced by city Councilor Brook Bassan at city council to repeal and to eliminate Safe Outdoor Spaces from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The repeal legislation was referred to the Environmental Planning Commision (EPC) for a full hearing and recommendations. On September 15, (EPC) voted to recommend a “Do Pass” recommendation to eliminate “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The vote and the recommendations were to delete all references of Safe Outdoor Spaces in the IDO effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city.
During the course of the September 15 hearing, and after the presentation of Councilor Basan’s city council legislative analysis, the public was allowed to speak, with each speaker given 2 minutes. The overwhelming majority of the testimony given by members of the general public was in opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces.
Representatives from neighborhood associations, including the Santa Barbara Martineztown Neighborhood Association, Wells Park Neighborhood Association and the Greater Albuquerque Business Alliance, a coalition of downtown businesses, testified in opposition to Safe Outdoor Spaces. The main arguments made by those opposed to Safe Outdoor Spaces include the following:
1.The City Council amendment for Safe Outdoor Space is not well planned out. Safe Outdoor Spaces will not be safe despite security plans and will be magnets for crime.
2. Safe Outdoor Spaces in the form of “tent encampments for the homeless” constitute temporary housing that has been found to be the least effective means with dealing with the homeless. Many city’s that once embraced city sanctioned homeless encampment such as tent encampments are abandoning them in favor of more permanent housing.
3. Safe Outdoor Spaces will be detrimental to the neighborhoods and surrounding business and interfere with the peaceful use and enjoyment of property, both private and public property, and will reduce property values and interfere with redevelopment efforts.
4. The Safe Outdoor Spaces provisions are not in conformity and contradict the numerous provisions of the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), including relating to “higher and best use” of property and the intent and goal of the IDO to have reasonable, responsible redevelopment provisions that do not hinder development.
5. Annual updates and amendments to the IDO, such as is the case with Safe Outdoor Spaces, are enacted without public support or input. The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) annual amendment process undertaken by the City Council is seriously flawed and is defective and does not allow for community input for major types of amendments affecting communities, such as Safe Outdoor Spaces. There is no complete review of data coming from the Planning Department to the EPC for IDO Amendments. Substantive amendments to the IDO are not being fully investigated and vetted by the Planning Department for recommendations to EPC as was the case with Safe Outdoor Spaces.
6. Safe Outdoor Spaces violates the city’s “Housing First”policy jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal funding by offering temporary housing and tent encampments to the homeless. In the 2021 fiscal year, the city spent $40 million and in the 2022 fiscal year will be spending $60 million to assist the homeless and much of the federal funding will be placed in jeopardy because of Safe Outdoor Spaces.
7. Safe Outdoor Spaces are nuisances and are in violation of city ordinances dealing with nuisance abatement on real property, especially property owned by the city.
At the conclusion of the September 15 EPC hearing, the EPC adopted upwards of 4 pages of very detail findings citing specific provisions of the IDO supporting their ruling to recommend the elimination of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO. Those finding outlined the provisions of the IDO that Safe Outdoor Spaces violate. The specific findings of the EPC supporting the deletion of Safe Outdoor Spaces from the IDO are as follows:
“The request to remove Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) from the IDO would generally help to enhance, protect, and preserve distinct communities because it would ensure that SOS are no longer allowed City-wide.”
“The request to remove SOS from the IDO would generally help to protect the identity and cohesiveness of neighborhoods because it would ensure that the use is not allowed to be near neighborhoods.”
“The request to remove SOS would be consistent in enhancing, protect, and preserving the long-tern health and vitality of neighborhoods because it would remove a use that is temporary, in some instances. A temporary use would not respect neighborhood values because the use is allowable in both Areas of Change and Areas of Consistency. Though only allowable in non-residential zone districts, the use would not stabilize neighborhoods or enhance their attractiveness.”
“The request to remove SOS from the IDO would generally continue to create and support healthy, sustainable and distinct communities because SOS would no longer be allowed Citywide, which in turn would protect the characteristics of distinct communities. SOS are allowed in a variety of non-residential or MX uses, as well as residential zones when associated with religious institutions, where higher density housing is allowed. By removing SOS as a use, higher density housing will continue to be encouraged on those sites.”
“SOS are currently allowed in all MX zone districts as conditional temporary uses and in NR-C, NR-BP, NR-LM and NR-GM as temporary uses, as well as residential zone districts when associated with a religious institution. The request to remove SOS form the IDO would ensure that SOS as a locally unwanted land use are eliminated, since they are allowed in a variety of zone districts in both Areas of change and Areas of Consistency City-wide.”
“The request would generally ensure that the character and intensity of development in Areas of Consistency is reinforced by removing SOS from the IDO because the use is currently allowed in areas of consistency with minimal design standards. Furthermore, growth that is desired in areas of change would be generally encouraged in zone districts that SOS are currently allowed on.”
“The request would raise the sufficient land available to accommodate projected employment growth City-side by eliminating Safe Outdoor Spaces. SOS are currently allowed in a variety of non-residential zone districts that could otherwise be developed as businesses.”
The EPC recommendation has now been referred to the City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee (LUPZ) for further hearings and ultimately the legislation will be presented for a vote to the full City Council. It is the City Council that has the ultimate and final authority over land use issues.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
What is clear from the City Councils actions and Mayor Keller’s 2 vetoes and the actions of the EPC is that what is occurring within the city is a prolonged political battle to prohibit Safe Outdoor Spaces from being allowed throughout the city, a battle that is being lost by the public with the Mayor and City Council. This is not just an issue of “not in my back yard” syndrome, but one of hostility and mistrust of elected officials, especially Mayor Tim Keller, who are viewed as mishandling the city’s homeless crisis despite millions and millions being spent each year to help the homeless. The public perception is that little or no progress has been made by Keller and the homeless crisis has become far more visible than ever before on the streets, parks and open spaces of Albuquerque.
It is an epic political battle being waged between the city’s elected officials and the general public. On one side of the battle are elected the city’s elected officials of Democrat Mayor Tim Keller and Democrats City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Tammy Fiebelcorn and Republican Trudy Jones and City Departments who feel they know best for the city and public. All 5 elected officials are hell bent on creating “Safe Outdoor Spaces” and cramming them down the public and their constituents’ throats ignoring city ordinances and the city’s housing first policy and without public input and contrary to public opinion. On the other side of the issue is the general voting public who by all accounts are extremely hostile and who are opposed to temporary homeless tent encampments known as “Safe Outdoor Spaces.”
It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand, let alone justify, why things have not improved with the City and the Keller Administration dealing with the homeless when upwards of $125 million has been spent over the last two years to deal with 1,311 to 1,567 homeless each year over the last 5 years. The millions being spent each year by the city to deal with the homeless with the “housing first” policy and new Gibson Gateway Homeless Shelter and the Westside Homeless Shelter should be more than enough to deal with housing the homeless, yet Mayor Keller and the 4 City Councilors demand and want more from the public in the form of Safe Outdoor Spaces and operation funding.
It is difficult to understand, other than sure financial gain, why Heading Home is applying for Safe Outdoor Spaces after being given millions to implement a housing first policy approach to the homeless and now will establish 2 Safe Outdoor Spaces asking for more operating funds. Simply put, Safe Outdoor Space encampments violate the city’s and Keller’s own “housing first” policy by not providing a form of permanent housing and with reliance on tents as temporary housing.
Safe Outdoor Spaces are not the answer to the homeless crisis. “Safe Outdoor Spaces” will be a disaster for the city as a whole. They will destroy neighborhoods, make the city a magnet for the homeless and destroy the city’s efforts to manage the homeless through housing. The homeless crisis will not be solved by the city, but it can and must be managed. Safe Outdoor Spaces represent a very temporary place to pitch a tent, relieve oneself, bathe and sleep at night with rules that will not likely be followed.
The answer is to the homeless crisis is to provide the homeless the support services, including food and permanent lodging, and mental health care needed to allow the homeless to turn their lives around and perhaps become productive self-sufficient citizens.
Given the City Council’s vote on the Safe Outdoor Space moratorium and failures to override Keller’s vetoes, it is more likely than not that the city council will vote down and NOT to support the EPC recommendation to eliminate all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces. The legislation eliminating from the IDO Safe Outdoor Spaces will likely pass on a 5 to 4 vote and Mayor Tim Keller is expected to veto the legislation. The council will need 6 votes to override the mayor’s veto. Unless City Councilor Trudy Jones comes to her senses or has some sort of divine epiphany and changes her mind once again and votes to override Keller’s veto, the override will fail on a 5 to 4 vote and Safe Outdoor Spaces will become law. This is the type of conduct that results in general public distrust of city government.
Notwithstanding the objections of property owners and voters, Keller and the 4 city councilors believe they know best and intend to go forward with Safe Outdoor Spaces.