Below is a guest opinion column submitted for publication on this blog by Colleen Aycock, a resident of Four Hills in SE Albuquerque. She is an organizer of “Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods”. She has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of Southern California and has spent her professional life teaching writing at the college level, editing business magazines, and writing biographies for the U. S. Capitol, Statuary Hall. She serves on the Editorial Board for the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO), has authored 5 books on boxing. She has been inducted into the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame. She has spent a lifetime in active civic volunteerism, having been president of Rotary Clubs in Texas and Maryland. She is currently president of P.E.O. Chapter AM, Albuquerque. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR’S DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this guest column are those of Colleen Aycock and do not necessarily reflect those of the www.petedinelli.com blog. She has not been paid compensation to publish the guest column and has given her consent to publish on www.PeteDinelli.com.
COLLEEN AYCOCK GUEST COLUMN
MOTEL CONVERSIONS BAD PUBLIC POLICY TO DEAL WITH HOMELESS CRISIS
BY COLLEEN AYCOCK
The City of Albuquerque is involved in another City boondoggle. It is a Tiny Homes-type public housing project on steroids, with more units and with an impact that could potentially destroy entire business districts across Albuquerque. The plan is called “Motel Conversions,” and the Mayor Tim Keller Administration’s goal is to buy motels and convert them into public housing projects, directed by Family & Community Services, eventually turning these City-purchased properties over to non-profit entities to run them.
On October 17, 2022, Mayor Keller announced that the city is ready to convert 10 commercial motels into public housing, and that the city plans to train individuals through their programs to perform the construction. The plan is to create “affordable housing” with “access for all.”
This may sound like a laudable goal, but like the “Plans” to house the homeless in tents and tiny homes the city calls living spaces without restrooms and kitchens, the plan for Motel Conversions is equally bad. The plan will not create true, meaningful, or complete, permanent housing for already struggling residents. It will only create high-density slums and invite additional crime into the area. The slap in the face to taxpaying citizens is that the City will use the deep pockets of the taxpayers to fund these ill-planned projects. The City wants to use and reallocate federal HUD grants and one-fifth of the $100-million tax bond money designated for “Affordable Housing” for motel conversions, all monies never intended for substandard housing.
Simply put, staying in a converted one-room, motel room for longer than a week is harmful and constitutes substandard permanent living conditions for anyone, especially for a family with children. This “permitted design” should not be allowed by the City of Albuquerque or funded by HUD or with public bond money earmarked for “Affordable Housing”. A converted motel room is NOT what Albuquerque taxpayers thought they were getting when they voted for the $100-million-dollar bond package for Affordable Housing. And a slum is not what HUD intended for its Community Grants.
SURE STAY HOYEL FIRST CITY PURCHASE ON HOTEL CIRCLE
The first of these “Motel Conversions” is planned for the largest business district in City Council District 9 serving SE and NE Albuquerque, along Hotel Circle at Eubank and Lomas, a decision by the City that all businesses in this district say will harm them.
Since last fall, a year ago, the City of Albuquerque and the Real Property Division have been interested in purchasing the Sure Stay Hotel on Hotel Circle SE, a private hotel business directly across the street from the Econolodge and Days Inn hotels. These for-profit hotels are bordered by other for-profit businesses in the largest shopping area in SE and NE Albuquerque near I-40. These businesses include restaurants and big box stores that attract large numbers of clients and tourists to the area. The businesses include Sadies, the Owl Café, and Applebees, Target, Office Depot, Best Buy, the Home Store, PetCo and other businesses critical to the healthy economic welfare of District 9 and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Before the City could purchase the Sure Stay hotel for this residential public housing Project, the City needed to create a zoning amendment in the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) which would allow for this type of business conversion for residential use by the City.
Thus, the creation, in July, of the loosely crafted “Motel Conversion” IDO amendment (0-22-10) which the City Council passed, with some opposition, which allows for any commercial structure, not originally built or intended for permanent residential housing, to be converted into structures without full service kitchens with appliances, and, in lieu thereof, allow for microwave and dormitory-style refrigerators.
With the building code and IDO changes in place, the City could legally purchase any commercial building for use of Family & Community Services for permanent public housing projects. But the City had to have the MONEY guaranteed for these purchases and conversions. That money would come from several sources, but primarily HUD and, with City Councilors’ blessing, an already passed tax bond for “Affordable Housing,” monies not designated specifically for Motel Conversions. That detail didn’t matter. The City would reallocate those and other HUD funds for these conversions.
In the Spring 2022, Assistant Family Community Services Director Lisa Huval justified the purchases by saying, “The City Council also this spring approved borrowing $20 million as part of a $100 million gross receipts tax bond package for affordable housing, which Huval, Deputy Director of Housing, said can go toward creating new units or acquiring and rehabilitating property.” There is over $23 million in city and federal voucher funding available, including $9.8 million extra in ongoing annual funding added to the budget this year,” she stated.
The link to the quoted news source is here:
If the City Council knew this past spring that they were voting to reallocate these bond funds, the blame can be equally placed on City Council for allowing Family & Community Services to take $20-million from “affordable housing” to create Motel Conversions that would destroy business districts, specifically the business district, built and designed and named “Hotel Circle” exclusively for businesses.
HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT FUNDING
On September 23, 2022, the Department of Family & Community Services published a notice in the “Albuquerque Journal” in its Government Legals, fine-print, pages that stated the City intended to purchase Sure Stay Hotel by using Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding of $3,059,662.12 in Community Development Block Grants, $2,443,724.00 from Public Facilities monies and $615,938.12 from Foreclosure Prevention for a total property purchase of $6,119,324.24. Public Facilities money are intended to be used for such things as fire departments, police stations, community centers. Foreclosure Prevention money is intended to be used to prevent foreclosures—and not to be used as funding with which to buy a property.
On September 29, 2022, six days later, the city published in the “Albuquerque Journal” a “Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact and Notice of Intent to Request Release of Funds from HUD”. The notice stated:
“On or after Oct. 17, 2022 the City of ABQ, Dept. of Family and Community Services will submit a request to the HUD ABQ Field Office for the release of CDBG CARES and HOME American Rescue Plan (HOME_ARP) funding to the Sure Stay Hotel Acquisition and Renovation Project for the permanent housing with supportive services….”
The total HUD funding is estimated at $7,559,662.12.
Over 6 days, from September 23 to September 29, the published request for HUD funds increased by almost $1.5 million from one document to the next. When the discrepancy was brought to the attention of Community Development Program Manager Monica Montoya, she responded that the original request was for $3,059,662.12 and that it be allocated for the contribution of the Sure Stay Motel acquisition, an original monetary request and location that the public never heard about but the city was already dealing with HUD funds. As the legal notice clearly published, other funds were being reallocated from “Public Facilities” and “Foreclosure Prevention”, grants that are inappropriate for the City’s purchase of a private motel.
With respect to the discrepancy of funds from one notice to the other, Montoya stated that the released funding includes another HUD source that had already been approved for the purchase by saying “The Request for Release of funds also includes HOME-ARP funding for the rehabilitation of the Sure Stay. … That funding plan has already been accepted by HUD and therefore was not included in the amendment.” These back-room plans to take hotel businesses away from the business sector is a blatant example of the City’s machinations to weaponize federal public money against private citizens and businesses without full disclosure to the public. In the case of the Sure Stay Hotel, the transaction was not, at this point, completed but funds were being diverted to the purchase.
HARM MEASURED IN FUTURE COSTS
The actual consequences to established hotel and other businesses from the City’s plans to allow Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) which allows for tent living, also substandard housing, next to an established hotel business must be considered. The cost of security and social services for these units do not outweigh the cost of lost neighborhood businesses, increased crime, and future long-term drug and mental health consequences for those forced to live, long term, in inhumane conditions. Flush with federal, state, and city money for constructing actual, livable residences, the Keller Administration can and should design something better than tents, tiny homes and motel conversions for its population. Consider the cost to taxpayers of the appeals and litigation to come.
SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES APPEALS AND LITIGATION PROOF OF POOR PLANNING AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
PICTURE THIS: A tent lot for the homeless situated behind a prestigious multistoried hotel, the Crown Plaza, that draws conventions to Albuquerque. The contrast is visually stark and economically devastating for the existing businesses and any potential business development for that area of Menaul.
Adopted in July along with the “Motel Conversion” amendment was the “Safe Outdoor Spaces” (SOS) amendment where as many as 40 to 50 individuals could live in tents or in their vehicles on an open space vacant lot. The SOS amendment garnered more public, press, and media attention than the “Motel Conversions” because of the back-and-forth battles between the City Council and Mayor over the SOS amendment. That battle consisted of the City Council passing the SOS amendment originally proposed by the City. Then Councilors changed their minds and introduced and passed a moratorium on the SOS—which the Mayor vetoed. The City Council then voted on the Mayor’s veto, but their votes failed to override his veto.
Repeal legislation of the SOS amendment has been introduced and the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) held a hearing on the legislation and voted to recommend total repeal of SOS land use.
Because the SOS Amendment passed, on July 30, Dawn Legacy Point filed the very first application for a ‘Safe Outdoor Space’ homeless encampment. The Dawn Legacy Point homeless encampment is intended to provide accommodations for upwards of 50 women who are homeless and who are “sex-trafficking victims” in addition to other vulnerable populations. The homeless encampment is to be located on vacant land at 1250 Menaul Blvd, NE which consists of two large parcels of property owned by the City with an assessed value of $4,333,550.
On August 8, the City Planning Department approved the Dawn Legacy Point application for a Safe Outdoor Space homeless campsite at 1250 Menaul, NE. Seven appeals of the Dawn Legacy Point Safe Outdoor Spaces were filed asking the City Planning Department to reverse its decision and deny the Safe Outdoor Space application of Dawn Legacy.
On September 28, 2022, an all-day hearing was convened by a City Land Use Hearing (LUHO) officer to hear the appeals. All seven appeals were heard separately, but consecutively, at the September 28, 2022 hearing. As a matter of administrative efficiency and economy, the appeals were consolidated and considered together for disposition.
All of the appeals sounded the same chord: loss of business income, expensive cost of private security, and threat of the location becoming even more unsafe and ill-suited for business purposes.
The fact of the matter is, that the City’s location of the S.O.S on Menaul violates the City’s own goals “to situate similar businesses together”, (the City’s justification in a ruling in Nob Hill for allowing multiple cannabis stores in close proximity). A commercial lot of tents is not a hotel and is a stark contrast and dissimilar business if you picture that tent lot in the backyard the Crown Plaza Hotel.
On October 10, City Land Use Hearing Officer Steven M. Chavez issued his decision in the appeal of Dawn Legacy Point application. Hearing Officer Chavez REMANDED the Dawn Legacy Point application back to the city Planning Department for further review after finding “substantial and meaningful violations of due process” of law to the appellants.
CITY VIOLATES DUE PROCESS RIGHTS OF PROPERTY OWNERS
The most compelling legal fact considered in the SOS debacle at the LUHO Hearing was that the City never notified any surrounding and bordering business that the City intended to put inferior residential living spaces next door to their businesses. The General Manager of the Crown Plaza testified to the LUHO Officer that the hotel had been losing business due to the large number of homeless loiterers and high crime in the area. The Crown Plaza had over $750,000 of repeat convention contracts cancelled, all for reasons that the area had become unsafe. The LUHO officer found that Dawn Legacy Pointe’s SOS application lacked “substantial and meaningful” statutory violations of Due Process.
The City’s modus operandi is clear: The City can do whatever it wants behind closed doors, it can pass an ordinance to fit its secret plans without the public knowing where and what it intends to do with the ordinances; and, as shown with the Dawn Legacy SOS application, the City doesn’t seem to care about violating anyone’s due process. With the Dawn Legacy application, the City violated the due process rights of adjacent property owners and rushed the approval of the land use to approve it behind closed doors. It is doing the same thing with Motel Conversions, but on a planned larger scale.
VIOLATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS REPEATING ITSELF WITH HOTEL CONVERSIONS
The violation of constitutional rights is now repeating with Motel Conversions. Not a single business along Hotel Circle, from Lomas to Eubank has been notified of the City’s year-long plan to buy the Sure Stay Hotel for Family & Community Services to provide permanent public residential housing.
But the real travesty is evident in the City’s fast-hands, and probably illegal, use of tax-payers’ federal tax funds through HUD and other “reallocated” taxpayer monies the City is using for the purchase of these Motel Conversions.
There are other problems with the City’s purchase of the Sure Stay Hotel:
1) No Open Record Public Request for Purchase. Community Development Program Manager Monica Montoya stated that there was no public Request for Purchase (RFP) for the purchase of the hotel.
2) No Due Process. No businesses along Hotel Circle, SE, were notified and still have not been notified in writing or in person of the Sure Stay Hotel purchase by any public or elected official.
3) Hidden Costs for Services. The request to HUD for Release of Funding, published in the newspaper includes “supportive services” which has not been defined. There was no disclosure of how much money these “services” will cost the taxpayer for the first year or thereafter. According to Monica Montoya, “supportive services” include such things as the delivery of vaccines and food boxes. It is sadly ironic to picture a delivery of a food box to client living a hotel room without a kitchen.
4) Cost of Crime. There is proof that this “Project” will make the business district more dangerous.
MOTEL CONVERSIONS HISTORY OF BEING IMPRACTICAL FOR PERMANENT LIVING
Motel conversions have a history of being impractical for permanent living and very, very dangerous to neighborhoods and businesses in the area. That proof can be found in the conversion of a motel on East Central, now called the Four Hills Studios. This long-term, low-income property accepting housing vouchers has experienced, in this year alone, a murder, assaults with serious bodily injury, drug dealers and drug-related crimes, and extortion of its residents. The police have reported over 400 calls to that location in the first half of this year. While the City doesn’t own this property, citizens are forced to pay the high costs from the consequences of its conversion for low-income residential use in a business district. (That motel conversion is now under new ownership with new managers, under the ADAPT program, a program that replaced the Safe City Strike Force to deal with harmful, derelict properties.)
There are other troubling financial questions regarding these motel sales. Those questions include:
Who are the sales agents? Who stands to gain financially from these sales?
How many reputable businesses will be put out of business when these projects pop up?
Where are the other 9 City-planned Motel Conversions locations?
The City has not been forthcoming with any answers to these questions.
A BACKWARD PROCESS
The city’s purchasing process for affordable housing is ill advised and backwards. The City should be looking for properties that will promote quality living for residents in residential areas. The City needs to build the City up, not take inferior, cheap, and worn properties to rehab for the unfortunate, concentrating them in properties that are likely to become slums.
The City’s Planning Dept. should be asking the businesses in and around Hotel Circle for their input first. The City should have asked businesses how these public housing projects will affect their businesses and economic well-being. Not a single business surveyed wanted this Sure Stay Housing Project to go forward. Their answers were a resounding: “It will destroy our business.” “Why is the City putting residential public housing in a business district?” “We are against this.” Like the City’s purchase of a commercial lot for tents in the backyard of a multi-storied hotel, it appears the City of Albuquerque through Family & Community Service is running rough-shod over the business district at Hotel Circle. Maybe the name of its road sign should be changed from “Hotel Circle” to ““No taxpayer Input Desired/Required.”
Why is the City doing this? The simple answer: because it can, and the City has deep pockets from taxpayer funds with which to tap.
In a pre-planned move, for over a year now, the City has been setting in motion a plan to buy the Sure Stay Hotel on Hotel Circle, planning to change the IDO to make this and other purchases possible, planning to use one-fifth of the tax bond package for “inferior housing” (with City Council approval), and then planning to turn these City purchases over to Not-for-profit entities to run them—all plans that failed to notify the public or the businesses imminently affected.
What is happening now is NOT the best way to run a city or a public residential housing program, by buying up commercial properties willy-nilly in business districts, without a plan, anywhere the administration wants, without proper notification to the public, and failing to account for and use of HUD money for its intended purposes.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you want to voice your opinion against the City’s purchase of the Sure Stay Hotel or any other motels for conversion into insufficient housing for permanent public “Projects” for low-income, homeless, or any other individuals, please add your name to the petition requested by the surrounding businesses on Hotel Circle.
The petition is located on Judy Young’s website. Judy is a member of Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods and is running for Bernalillo County Commissioner, Dist. 5 in Albuquerque. She is the only candidate for office that has offered to help these businesses in their desperate cry for help in this matter.
Sign the Petition at: https://youngbernco.com/motel-conversions-petition
You can also request to HUD to STOP using HUD funds by re-allocating funds not meant to be used for purchases that will destroy businesses in existing business districts by emailing: Lawrence Reyes, Dir.of Albuquerque HUD office:
Founding member of Women Taking Back Our Neighborhoods