On July 25, 2023 Mayor Tim Keller appeared before a luncheon of the local chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP). During the luncheon, Keller announced to NAIOP that some parts of the Gateway Center are open. Keller went on to announce it will be at least two more years until the Gateway Homeless Shelter is fully operational. Keller told the group this:
“Look, it’s a little delayed because of asbestos. Before that it was delayed because of zoning. You all know how that works [being developers], but we are doing this.”
According to Keller, the City has now broken up the center’s opening into phases by addressing one service at a time. For example, a housing navigation center, a first responder drop-off and a sobering center are e phases.
Other services like mental health care and overnight shelters will take even longer to open than originally planned. Keller said this
“My goal is, in the next two years to have all those phases open. It’s gonna be a heavy lift, but we have to do this for Albuquerque”.
City spokesperson Chris Chaffin said two parts of the Gateway Center should be completed this summer and they are the Housing Navigation Center and the Engagement Center. According to Chaffin, the Engagement Center started some operations in January. Eventually, people staying at the shelter will be able to get their hair cut, secure a ride to the clothing bank and get job training all in the same place.
Additional services like case management and job training are being planned. The Housing Navigation Center will include overnight beds for women and additional services to secure stable housing. Chaffin said the certificate of occupancy has not yet been issues but is imminent. No opening date has been given.
GATEWAY SHELTER COSTS AND OTHER EXPENDITURES
According to the Keller Administration, construction cost on the Gateway Homeless Shelter is $7 million which is upwards $340 a square foot. Next on the construction timeline is a receiving area for first responders and Albuquerque Community Safety employees followed by a medical sobering center and a “medical respite” center.
The current construction costs of $7 Million are in addition to the $15 million building purchase in 2021 and $1 million per year contract with Heading Home, the homeless service provider that operates the center, putting the current price tag at $23 million.
Over the past two fiscal years, the Keller Administration has spent $33,854,536 for homeless emergency shelters, support, mental health and substance abuse programs and $60,790,321 for affordable housing programs for the low-income, near homeless. It has also spent funding for two 24/7 homeless shelters, including purchasing the Gibson Medical Center for $15 million to convert it into a homeless shelter. The Family and Community Services approved 2023-2024 budget lists forty-five (45) separate affordable housing contracts totaling $39,580,738, fifteen (15) separate emergency shelter contracts totaling $5,575,690, and twenty seven (27) separate homeless support service contracts totaling $5,104,938 for a total of $50,261,366
GATEWAY SHELTER OCCUPANCY
Over this past winter, but cause of harsh weather conditions, emergency overnight beds were opened to all genders due to the weather with nearly 100 men staying in the facility. Currently, overnight beds are only available for women at the Gateway Shelter.
Since January of this year, a total of 93 women have stayed in the overnight beds at the Gateway shelter. Currently, 35 women are staying in the Gateway shelter, using beds separated by cubicle-like dividers at the shelter. Rubbery sheets, studded with magnets, can be affixed to metal strips to add additional privacy. Like the Westside Emergency Housing Center, the Gateway Center is open to pets as well as people. According to city officials, allowing pets lowers barriers to entry.
One hundred beds are available at the Gateway Center. However, people are not able to walk in and access services. A referral from another social service provider is required and then the person must go through a screening process. Although sobriety isn’t a requirement to enter the facility, drug use is prohibited on the premises.
City officials say that although one or two night stays are expected, the goal is for people to have longer stays and to take advantage of the housing and job training resources before eventually moving into permanent housing.
Family and Community Service Director Carol Pierce said the goal is to move residents of the shelter into permanent housing within 90 days. Pierce wasn’t sure how many women of the 93 have moved to permanent housing, but noted that the 90-day program hasn’t been fully implemented.
Links to quoted news sources are:
KELLER’S ROAD TO GATEWAY
It was on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, that Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference in front of the Gibson Medical Center, formerly the Lovelace Hospital, to officially announce the city had bought the massive 572,000 square-foot building that has a 201-bed capacity, for $15 million in order to convert it into a 24-7 homeless shelter. In making the announcement, Keller said in part:
“The City of Albuquerque has officially bought the Gibson Medical Center, the cornerstone of our Gateway Center network. In total, this represents the largest capital investment that Albuquerque has ever made for the unhoused. We have roughly 5,000 homeless people. This challenge [of housing the homelessness] is huge. And we know this challenge has gotten way worse during the pandemic. For us, this is about actually doing something. Not just talking about it, not just discussing it, not just harping about the details. This is about action. … This is never meant to be permanent. It’s meant to be a gateway to services that can then lead to people enabling and changing their lives. … What we’re looking at here is to move past this question of where … No matter how you feel about it, we’ve answered that question.”
After his press conference, Keller came under severe criticism for his failure to reach a consensus and take community input before the Gibson Medical Center was purchased for a 24/7 homeless shelter. Keller said he planned to confer with residents in the future. Keller made it clear either way, like it or not, the site had been selected and the Gibson Medical facility will be used to service the homeless population as a Gateway Center.
After his press conference, Keller came under severe criticism for his failure to reach a consensus and take community input before the Gibson Medical Center was purchased. Keller said he planned to confer with residents in the future. Keller made it clear either way, like it or not, the site had been selected and the Gibson Medical facility will be used to service the homeless population as a Gateway Center.
Since being sworn in as Mayor the first time on December 1, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller made it known that building a city operated homeless shelter was his top priority. Keller deemed that a 24-hour, 7 day a week temporarily shelter for the homeless critical towards reducing the number of homeless in the city. Keller’s plans are that the city owned shelter is to assist an estimated 1,000 homeless residents and connect them to other services intended to help secure permanent housing. The new facility is intended to serve all populations of men, women, and families. Further, the city wants to provide a place anyone could go regardless of gender, religious affiliation, sobriety, addictions, psychotic condition or other factors.
The city facility is to have on-site case managers that would guide residents toward counseling, addiction treatment, housing vouchers and other available resources. The new homeless shelter is intended to replace the existing West Side Emergency Housing Center, the former jail on the far West Side. The west side facility has been deemed unsustainable costing over $1 million in transportation costs a year for the homeless. The goal is for the new homeless shelter to provide first responders an alternative destination for the people they encounter known as the “down-and-out” calls.
DELAY AFTER DELAY
Since the April 6, 2021 purchase of the Gibson Medical Center for conversion to the Gateway homeless shelter, completion of the project has experienced delay after delay. The plague of delays has included neighborhood protests, a civil lawsuit and zoning battle and asbestos discovery requiring remediation.
After his April 6, 2021 press conference, Mayor Keller came under severe criticism for his failure to reach a consensus and take community input before the Gibson Medical Center was purchased. Keller said he planned on conferring with residents in the future. However, Keller made it clear either way, like it or not, the site had been selected and the Gibson Medical facility will be used to service the homeless population as a Gateway Center.
Residents who live in the area said it would only cause more problems for them in the area. Other residents thought the facility should be used on a smaller scale to service a few dozen women and children, rather than a few hundred people. The biggest worry is that the Gibson facility would in fact be converted to “mega-shelter” that will impact the neighborhood.
On Friday, April 9, 2021 neighbors who felt they have been ignored and overlooked in the planning process and being asked to shoulder too big of a burden protested near the site. Some held signs with the messages:
“NO INPUT, NO INFO, NO FAITH IN GATEWAY”
“KELLER LIES ABOUT SIZE”
“I VOTED FOR A SUBSTATION AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY MEGA SHELTER”
“KELLER NEVER ASKED US”
“GATEWAY = KELLER’S ART”
“KELLER NEVER ASKED US”
“MAYOR KELLER, NO MORE DISRESPECT”
Vera Watson, a resident of nearby Parkland Hills neighborhood, said the city has too big of a concentration of social services in Southeast Albuquerque. Watson believes it contributes to crime. Watson said she voted for the bond question that generated $14 million for the Gateway Center and that she supports additional services for people who are homeless. However, she feels the city has neglected the surrounding neighborhoods while advancing the project. Watson said bluntly:
“I just think the mayor gave us his middle finger”.
The net result of the protests was the neighborhoods organized, held meetings with city officials and recruited attorney’s acting pro bono to assist with appeals. The neighborhoods argued that the city needed to do more for homelessness, but not all in one place at one time.
The neighborhoods were successful in negotiating greater input on the site development, including the city investing in lighting and infrastructure, security plans and creation of a “neighborhood council” to address unintended consequences. The city significantly reduced plans for the Gibson Gateway Center from an unlimited number of overnight beds to a homeless shelter for upwards of 50 women and those needing medical care.
Soon after the April 6, 2021 announcement that the city had bought the Gibson Medical Center facility for the new Gateway “overnight shelter”, the Keller Administration discovered that the facility was zoned for “hospital and medical” usage exclusvely. The existing zoning for the Gibson Medical Center facility allowed for an “overnight shelter” but only as a “conditional use” that the city had to apply for under the city’s zoning laws known as the Integrated Development Ordinance. Within weeks of closing on the purchase of the facility, the city applied for the “conditional use” arguing there was a strong need for it to enhance Albuquerque’s demand for homeless services to an ever-expanding homeless population.
From the get go, the filing for the conditional use zoning application was bogged down in appeals filed by the surrounding neighborhoods, which was totally within their rights but which upset Mayor Keller. In a June, 2022 press conference announcing the closure of Coronado Park, Mayor Keller took it upon himself complained about the delay and said this:
“The Gateway Center has been delayed years because of appeals based on zoning laws made by a small, tiny community that doesn’t want that thing to open. … [It has been tied up in an] endless purgatory of appeals.”
It was On August 16, 2022, a full 15 months of delay since the Keller Administration purchased the sprawling Gibson Medical Center to convert it into a 24-7 homeless shelter that the Keller Administration was able to finally secure the necessary “conditional use” zoning change to operate the facility as a 24-7 “homeless shelter.”
The Keller Administration had planned to have overnight beds available by 2022, but for various reasons that did not happen. Then asbestos was found in the facility delaying construction and remodeling even further.
On April 25, 2023, KRQE News 13 Investigation Reporter Larry Barker reported on the Keller Administration’s discovery of asbestos at the new Gateway renovation construction site. Barker also reported on the coverup of the cleanup efforts resulting in delays of completion of the Gateway Homeless Shelter. Following is the report edited and rearranged for brevity:
“It’s a massive 70-year-old hospital building bought by the City of Albuquerque two years ago. Mayor Tim Keller pledged to transform the old Lovelace Medical Building into a showpiece complex to address the city’s homeless problem. Once complete, the Gateway Project is designed to be a modern multi-purpose homeless shelter and health services center.
Over the past year, the city has been engaged in a $9.5 million building renovation. The Gateway Center is expected to open for business later this year.
But there’s trouble at the Gateway Project, and it’s not something Albuquerque officials will talk about. You see, it isn’t just a construction zone; it’s a danger zone. Internal city documents obtained by KRQE News 13 show how Albuquerque officials involved with the Gateway renovation blatantly violated federal health and Safety regulations putting lives at risk.
One of the roadblocks to renovating old buildings is the presence of asbestos. In the 1950s, when the original Lovelace Hospital was built, asbestos was commonly used in building materials like insulation, ceiling tiles, and flooring. Today, if construction workers encounter asbestos during renovation projects, then stringent federal abatement regulations must be followed.
Breathing asbestos fibers can be deadly, so only specially trained and certified work crews are allowed to operate in asbestos remediation areas. Full body suits, respirators, gloves, and boots are required. Asbestos debris must be bagged and disposed of in a hazardous waste repository.
UNM School of Medicine Pulmonologist Dr. Akshay Sood said this:
“[Asbestos] does cause cancer, and it is recognized to be a carcinogen. … It’s important to minimize exposure to asbestos to construction workers because there is a tremendously high risk of developing… cancers as well as other diseases associated with asbestos exposure.”
According to a city timeline, last year contractors doing renovation work on the Gateway Center’s second floor used a large mechanical scraper to rip out and shred old tile flooring containing asbestos. The debris was swept up with brooms and thrown in the trash. There were no worker safeguards, no notifications, no protective gear, no respirators, and no regard for the law.
The Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) initiated an investigation after receiving complaints that allege “No inspection or testing was done prior to demolition work. Workers are not wearing PPE and are scraping, and grinding. The HVAC system is still running and may have transported dust through the building. Staff have raised safety concerns multiple times but the project is politically driven and two work stop orders from the City’s Risk (Management) Division have been ignored.”
On February 28, 2023, Albuquerque’s Risk Management Division informed Gateway Project Manager Jesse Valdez that “There is high possibility that there is asbestos in the areas of the Gibson Health Hub that are under construction. All work in these areas must cease until an asbestos test has been performed.”
An internal city document noted, “There was no pause on the construction site with the reasoning that Risk (Management) does not have jurisdiction to shut down construction sites.” Renovation construction was halted only briefly and then resumed.
On March 9, 2023, test results confirmed the presence of asbestos in the 2nd-floor work area. OHSB Investigators directed the city to halt all work in the asbestos area. OHSB Safety Compliance Officer Lorenzo Montoya said this:
“It is imperative that a regulated area be established immediately. The area must be secured from unauthorized persons and demarcated immediately,”
New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau Chief Bob Genoway said this:
“We consider (these) to be serious allegations that warranted an OSHA investigation. … Bottom line is we’re trying to make sure that employees don’t become seriously ill or injured from hazards in the workplace. Asbestos is a recognized, serious hazard in the workplace and can cause serious diseases.”
Links to quoted news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The approval process and the remodeling for the Gateway Shelter can be described as road of good intentions paved with ineptness and at times incompetency by Mayor Tim Keller and his administration. There are 3 specific causes that placed the project on the road to unnecessary delays:
The first cause that contributed to the delays was the actual selection and purchase of the massive 572,000 square-foot Gibson Medical Center complex, formerly the Lovelace Hospital for $15 million in order to convert it into a 24-7 homeless shelter. The massive complex purchased has a 201-bed capacity, numerous physician offices, treatment and operating rooms, administration offices, a large lobby area as well as 250-to-300-person auditorium.
The city implemented a site selection process that originally identified 3 appropriate sites. On February 27, 2020 the City of Albuquerque released a report and analysis announcing the top 3 preferred locations. The 3 locations were:
- University of New Mexico (UNM) land next to the state laboratory, near Interstate 25 and Camino de Salud
- Coronado Park at 3rd Street and Interstate 40
- The former Lovelace hospital on Gibson
The UNM property was Keller’s first preferred choice and Keller took it upon himself to do a press conference to promote his selection and pressure the UNM regents to allow it. When UNM balked at the idea, Keller quickly move to purchase the Gibson Medical Center.
Keller failed to even try to get input from the surrounding neighborhoods nor did he attempt to reach a consensus with them and major protests occurred. Mayor Tim Keller was perceived as mishandling the site selection process for the shelter, especially with his shaming, guilt trip press conference to force UNM’s hand, and his failing to build true consensus on what the city should do and where the shelter should go.
The second cause that that contributed to the delays is the fact that Mayor Keller and his administration ostensibly did not know and did not do due diligence to determine if the Gibson Medical facility had the proper zoning to allow a 24-7 overnight shelter. The commercial property was purchased “as is”. What Keller and company found out only after the purchase was that the facility and the area was zoned for a hospital and that a conditional use for a 24-7 overnight shelter was required under the city’s zoning laws known as the Integrated Development ordinance. Rather than taking steps to rely on the existing zoning as a hospital and use the facility as a mental health treatment and substance abuse hospital facility for the homeless, the building sat vacant as to city usage.
The third cause that contributed to the delays was the discovery of asbestos on the property that required remediation. It was a sign of sure incompetence that the city Planning Department, the Municipal Development Department or the Environmental Health Department did not realize that in the 1950s, when the original Lovelace Hospital was built, asbestos was commonly used in building materials like insulation, ceiling tiles, and flooring. What is very disturbing is that the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) initiated an investigation after receiving complaints that allege “No inspection or testing was done prior to demolition work” and the city covered it up.
On April 21, the city announced that the asbestos abatement had been completed. That may be true for the area that is being remodeled for the new Gateway service, but that area is a fraction of the massive 572,000 square-foot complex. It is highly likely that the rest of the complex is riddle with asbestos and any future remodeling will require asbestos remediation jacking up the costs. In otherwards, Keller had the city buy a money pit of endless expenditures needed for asbestos remediation.
NAIOP INFLUENCE OVER MAYOR TIM KELLER
It was no accident that Mayor Tim Keller made his announcement of the delays in opening the Gateway Shelter to NAIOP. Keller’s very first State of the City address in 2018 occurred before NAIOP. Such appearances before NAIOP are regularly scheduled by Keller to allow him to give reports and briefings on city business to an influential business group that ostensibly he favors and he relies upon for political support. Each time Keller appears before NAIOP the press reports it and Keller makes the news. A good example was last year in August when Keller announced the closure of Coronado Park as the de facto city sanctioned homeless encampment.
NAIOP is considered by politicos as the most influential business and political organizations in the city. It boasts membership of over 300 developers, contractors and investors and it has regular luncheon meetings that are well attended with speakers and even sponsors candidate debates. It has its own Political Action Committee (PAC) for lobbying and supports candidates for office by making endorsements and contributing to races for city council and Mayor. NAIOP opposes project labor agreements requiring payment of prevailing union wages on city construction contracts as well as advocates for right to work laws in the state. Its membership is known to bid on and are awarded city construction contracts.
NAIOP membership consistently opposes, complains and lobbies to change city zoning laws arguing they are too burdensome and interfere with development. Most recently, NAIOP endorsed and lobbied heavily for enactment of Keller’s ABQ Housing Forward plan and major amendments to the Integrated Development ordinance that now allows casita development in 68% of the city that favors developers and investors over neighborhoods. The Keller Administration also pushed for changes to the zoning laws that reduce or eliminate property owners right of appeal and require input on developments. Simply put, Mayor Tim Keller and NAIOP have a relationship of politically scratching each other’s back.
There is little to no doubt that all the delays in completing the Gateway 24-7 homeless shelter fall squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Tim Keller and the way he and his administration have handled the project. One thing that always motivates politicians looking for public approval and financial support is an election year.
The next municipal election for Mayor is two years from now in November 2025. Keller is already making it known to many on his staff and financial supporters he intends to seek a third term. It’s no accident that Keller told NAIOP on July 25, 2023:
“My goal is, in the next two years to have all those phases open. It’s gonna be a heavy lift, but we have to do this for Albuquerque”.
What Keller was really saying is he has to get the Gateway Homeless Shelter done for his reelection before anyone can accuse him a failing to deliver on his promise to build a homeless shelter.