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The City of Las Cruces holds public meetings regarding federal funds for housing and homelessness

Jonny Coker Screenshot
Temporary shelter, known as Camp Hope, on the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope campus.

Recently, the City of Las Cruces has been holding meetings asking for the public’s input on American Rescue Plan funding regarding affordable housing and homelessness in Las Cruces.

The HOME ARP funding will allocate nearly $1.8 million in federal funds that are eligible to be used for four different areas; affordable rental housing, rental assistance, supportive services, and non-congregate shelter.

As of January 2020, New Mexico had over 3,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And officials say that it’s likely this number has gotten higher over the course of the pandemic.

The City of Las Cruces holds public meetings regarding federal funds for housing and homelessness

According to Katelyn Michaud, managing principal at Crescendo Consulting Group, this funding can be used for vulnerable populations that were affected by the pandemic.

“The homeless population is certainly growing just with the housing market and the rentals increasing, so again, more people are experiencing [homelessness] or housing instability for the first time," Michaud said. "I think we need to come together as a community to address and find solutions – long term solutions to really help people in how to address [this] affordable housing crisis that we’re in locally, and also nationally.”

However, the city’s meeting at the Desert Hope Apartments brought community members that said they were displeased with the city’s handling of housing projects in Las Cruces. They voiced complaints about rising crime rates in their neighborhoods.

Noah Raess Screenshot
An entrance to the Desert Hope Apartments.

Christopher Yee attends a church that is less than a block away from Desert Hope. He said that the area feels more unsafe than ever before.

"I do think if they happen to want to build more buildings, that it would need to be in a different location, not in a place where there is residential [housing]," Yee said. "I know they’re looking to integrate these people, but I think the question that has to be asked is, are these people ready for that?"

Jorge Ochoa, support service case manager at Desert Hope, mentioned that the funding could be used for more auxiliary services, such as mental health counseling, drug rehabilitation, and security services.

"Hopefully there could be more of an increase in the actual housing itself, and more support services as was spoken about in the meeting," Ochoa said. “We’re more overwhelmed with the amount of unwanted visitors that come over here, so maybe there could be some type of increase in security, possibly like a substation over here. And I’m not sure if that qualifies under the program itself but I think that would help deter the amount of unwanted visitors that are producing the crime in the community over here."

For Las Cruces resident April Hernandez, the Desert Hope apartments have been very helpful in her own path of rehabilitation.

“It’s been very helpful to me, I’m learning how to grow again," Hernandez said. "I keep to myself, and those are my goals to keep here to myself and just mind my own business and go out working and stuff. I just pray that it continues to be a good place [for me.]”

Becki Graham, Las Cruces City Councilor for District 3, said that directing ARP funds to nonprofits like Desert Hope is the most efficient and ethical solution for the city with this issue.

“I think that we’re invested in all fronts of this challenge. Despite having conversations with a lot of people who are opposing these strategies that the city is implementing, counter-solutions seem to be in short supply, at least solutions that are legal or feasible," Graham said.

The city has released a survey asking residents for feedback on how the funds can best be spent for the community. According to city officials, the incoming ARP Funding will go to those with the highest risk of struggling with housing costs. The funding is for the period of July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024.

Jonny Coker is a Multimedia Journalist for KRWG Public Media. He has lived in Southern New Mexico for most of his life, growing up in the small Village of Cloudcroft, and earning a degree in Journalism and Media Studies at New Mexico State University.