LAS CRUCES – The city is planning to increase police presence and a new property manager wants to better enforce rules and policies at the Desert Hope Apartments after complaints about the condition of the property and the effect it’s had on the surrounding neighborhood.
Desert Hope, a 40-unit permanent supportive housing development for formerly unhoused residents, opened in August 2021 at 1310 Pecos St. As a permanent supportive housing complex, Desert Hope not only provides affordable, often subsidized rents for tenants but also on-site services to assist them with employment, food insecurity and healthcare needs.
Services are provided by the nonprofit Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, which has staff working at the complex to coordinate services.
The complex is owned by the Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority. The MVPHA is tasked with managing the property, selecting tenants, processing leases and collecting rent.
Property management at Desert Hope has been described as infrequent to nonexistent as of late, according to some tenants and staff there, leading to unsanctioned visitors, unchecked disruptive behavior, litter, drug use and broken gates, bike pump and grill.
People who live or operate businesses near the complex have also spoken out in recent weeks, saying the neighborhood has become less safe since the complex opened. They’ve described aggressive panhandlers, discarded needles, human waste and unhoused people trespassing on properties.
New property manager
The MVPHA has denied claims it has poorly managed the property. Though the public housing authority admitted to the Sun-News on June 17 that following the resignation of a staff member assigned to Desert Hope, the agency did not have a permanent staff member there. MVPHA told the newspaper it was working to contract management out to a third party.
The housing authority has since hired JL Gray Company to serve as Desert Hope’s property manager, MVPHA Executive Director Juan Olvera stated.
“With the help of Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority, we have already cleaned up the property considerably and will continue to keep it clean and sanitary,” JL Gray Director of Development Jeff Curry said in a statement Wednesday. “With the help of Community of Hope and other agencies, we will be spending considerable time educating and training the residents on appropriate use of the property. We are enforcing the lease and property rules.”
Curry said staff on site are “carefully monitoring the situation.”
District 3 City Councilor Becki Graham, who represents the district in which Desert Hope sits, issued a public statement on the situation last week which included steps the city and the organizations involved in the complex are taking to address the issues.
The hiring of a property manager, according to Graham’s statement, will improve “oversight of residents” and allow for better communication with security at the apartments. JL Gray Company’s contract began July 1, Graham stated.
Police upping enforcement
Graham attended a public meeting June 15 during which apartment complex neighbors railed against the conditions they say emerged as a result of the complex.
“As I have continued to look into this situation, I’ve learned that the issues are not wholly tied to Desert Hope,” Graham said in her statement. “Many of the issues brought up are associated not with those living at the complex, but to people frequenting the surrounding area.”
The Las Cruces Police Department has reportedly increased the number of community outreach officers in the area, Graham stated. The officers “work with residents, business owners, and vulnerable populations to address the types of problems the neighborhood is experiencing, such as trespassing, littering, and vandalism.”
LCPD will also work with residents and business owners to create a neighborhood watch group, has installed a mounted security camera near the apartments and has discussed possibly adding a police substation to the area.
“The Las Cruces Police Department has offered extra manpower to help us address the current issue of excess guests and uninvited visitors,” Curry said in his statement.
Possible partnerships and funding
Mesilla Valley Community of Hope has added a part-time staff member to provide the on-site services offered at Desert Hope, and MVCH’s outreach team will engage with unhoused people around Desert Hope and in the surrounding neighborhoods, Graham’s statement read. MVCH’s Mano Y Mano Day Labor Program, recently expanded by the city council, will target Desert Hope for cleanup and maintenance using its new hot spot truck.
“I remain supportive of Desert Hope, and of the housing model it exemplifies,” Graham stated. “Residents of Desert Hope are members of this neighborhood and are key to workable, sustainable solutions.”
Graham also stated the city is working on a plan to spend $1.7 million in federal funds to assist the unhoused, housing insecure and other vulnerable residents with housing assistance and supportive services. The funding is from the American Rescue Plan Act and administered through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program, according to Las Cruces Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Natalie Green.
The funding can be used for the production and preservation of affordable housing, increasing the availability of non-congregate shelters, rental assistance and supportive, homelessness prevention and housing counseling services, according to HUD.
The District 3 councilor said she plans on holding a meeting in August to evaluate what difference, if any, the changes make.