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County Builds Homeless Transitional Housing Project

It was controversial from the beginning, but after three years of hard work and perseverance by community advocates and public officials, Bernalillo County is scheduled to open the Tiny Home Village on Dec. 9. It’s a small neighborhood village meant to provide housing and community support for the city’s homeless population. Eventually, the village will house 30 people, and the units are tiny, hence the name.

In 2014 community advocates composed of architects, doctors, construction workers and nonprofit organizations approached the city and the county after the tent city located outside of the Albuquerque Railyards at 10th St. and Iron Ave. kept being broken up. Ilse Biel was one of those advocates fighting for equitable shelter and support for the city’s growing homeless population.

 “That encampment forced government officials to recognize that there was a strong need for alternative accomodation,” said Biel. “You can’t just keep evicting people from their home and expect they are just going to go away.” Biel said they found the champion they needed in Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. “She was supportive through the whole process. I never felt that she was just tolerating us. I felt that she and her staff were
accommodating the process and wanted to see it through until the end.”

Not everyone was so supportive. After three rounds of public hearings held around the city, the county got an earful from neighborhood organizations that wanted to make sure the project wasn’t being built in their backyard. The county looked at over 50 locations around the city and eventually whittled it down to six potential sites. The working group visited similar community villages around the country like Opportunity Village in Eugene, Ore., and Community Village in Portland. “It took a lot of political will from Commissioner O’Malley,” said Special Projects Manager Bernadette Miera. “Public processes are messy, but we wanted people to know how much research we had done, and this wasn’t just a whim.”

The county finally settled on a vacant lot on Zuni Rd. and Texas St. SE. Funding for the Tiny Village housing project came from two general obligation bonds totaling $2.7 million that garnered over 70 percent of the public vote. Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson also provided $75,000 for planning.

The Tiny Village isn’t meant to provide permanent housing. It’s built on a transitional housing model with a referral system. Although it’s not set in stone, residents are allowed to live in the village for about two years. The houses are also not meant for families. Couples may stay in 10 of the units, while the rest are for individuals. There’s also a volunteer work component. Each resident will be expected to volunteer 10 hours a week in some aspect of the community. Background checks are required, and a minimum 10-day sobriety check is required of anyone invited to reside in the village. Sex offenders are also not allowed to live there.

“We will have specific rules governing the community that the residents participate in creating. Not everyone is going to be a good fit for the community. We’ll work with people as they come in and assess their needs,” said Biel.

When asked why she has fought so hard to see the project to fruition, Biel had this to say, “It’s an injustice for people who have nothing to be stigmatized and criminalized [for]. I’m very privileged, and it’s an obligation for me to try and pay it back.”

The Tiny Village will hold a public fundraiser for the opening of the village on Dec. 12. [ ]