Homes for the Homeless?
The council questions the Albuquerque Housing Authority
Albuquerque city councilors heard a sobering update on the condition of the city’s public housing at their April 20th regular meeting. The city doesn’t run the housing authority; it is its own separate agency. With the recent housing crises of the city’s homeless, eyes turned to the housing authority for answers as to why there was not enough help for those on the streets.
Linda Bridge, executive director of the Albuquerque Housing Authority was invited by Councilor Ken Sanchez to update the council on what the authority is doing to address this issue. Bridge said the funding and spending of Federal housing dollars is a complicated process.
The authority is obligated to provide two housing programs. One is public housing, which are housing units owned and operated by the authority. In bigger cities these became known as the projects. Bridge said all of the units need repair as they were all built in the late 1970s to early 1980s. The second program is known as Section 8,which subsidizes affordable housing with approved private landlords. For example, the income limit for a family of four is $29,700 a year. A single person is capped at $20,800. Bridge said most of the city’s clients, and potential clients, are considered very poor.
Sixty thousand Albuquerque families could benefit from government subsidized housing assistance.
“There is a high demand for services and a lack of funding to meet those needs,” Bridge said. “Essentially, we only have funding to support 1 in 10 of those 60,000.” The current wait-list is three years for both Section 8 housing and the public housing program. The authority is not taking any new applications at this time. Bridge said there needs to be alternative sources of funding other than the US Housing and Urban Development revenue stream to handle the chronically homeless in the city. She said one service the housing authority can do is give out project-based vouchers to organizations already in place that help the chronic homeless. Councilors asked a few questions including what preferences were given to placement on the waiting list. Bridge said the elderly, disabled, working families and single parents who are also students are given top preference. She said other programs, such as one to help homeless veterans, are in the works, and the agency is working with the city and other area stakeholders to come up with some real, long-term solutions to our chronic homeless housing issues.
The current wait-list is three years for both Section 8 housing and the public housing program. The authority is not taking any new applications at this time.
New City Attorney
A unanimous vote put the first woman city attorney in place. Jessica Hernandez is an accomplished local girl who graduated from Rio Grande High School. Hernandez, 34, completed her undergraduate degree in one year and graduated in the top 10 of her University of New Mexico law school class by the time she was 21. Hernandez has also worked at one of the city’s top law firms before becoming deputy chief of staff and general counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez.
Councilor Ken Sanchez asked Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry how many applicants were given interviews. Perry said they got eight to nine applicants and interviewed three. Sanchez asked why one of the applicants who had 23 years of experience at the United States Attorney’s office did not get an interview? Perry said that applicant was a fine lawyer, but some of the issues dealt with managerial experience. Democrat Rey Garduño was a little more direct in his question to Hernandez. “Who do you work for?” She effectively reassured the council by saying she has the duties of loyalty and confidentiality to the city as an entity, and to both the mayor and the council. She promised that she would give everyone the best legal counsel she can.
Hernandez’ former coworkers at the established Rodey Law Firm spoke highly of their colleague. “She is a rock star” was one description among many other praises. Hernandez came across as a strong, intelligent, independent and articulate young woman with a healthy sense of humor. I am impressed by her accomplishments. I am concerned when under this particular mayor’s reign, there are several appointments that seem to have, or had, ties to the Republican Governor Martinez administration. Whispers circulating of the state Republican party putting Republican Mayor Richard Berry up for a higher office make me a bit more cautious about this appointment. But all in all, she will bring a young, fresh, intelligent, female and Hispanic voice to the city legal roundtable, and that is good.
Bye-bye Downtown Business Improvement District
City Councilors terminated the existence of this tax district that has been riddled with problems from the git-go, including two costly, lengthy lawsuits filed by downtown real estate mogul Jim Long, owner of the Hyatt Regency and Albuquerque Plaza. Long’s lawsuits contend the BID is unfair and did not provide services equitably. The BID was put in place in 2000 by a majority vote of Downtown property owners to help kick-start Downtown revitalization. The money collected funded the Downtown Action Team—the folks hired to keep Downtown clean from litter, vomit and other unmentionables on the sidewalks, alleys and gutters, and to be friendly and helpful to tourists. But no worries about keeping our city’s heart spiffy; the Downtown Action Team will keep up as it is being funded separately through a council budget appropriation.