Skepticism Warranted for ABQ’s Planned Tiny Town

Errors of Enchantment has followed the proposal for a “Tiny Home Village” in the Albuquerque metro area since the proposal first popped up on our radar two years ago. Yesterday, we attended the third “community meeting” held to gather public feedback on the idea. Held at the Patrick J. Baca Library, at the intersection of Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard on the city’s west side, attendance was strong — hardly surprising, since one of the potential sites for the village is nearby. As the picture below shows, the (well-behaved) crowd was lined up well before the doors opened at 10:00 am.


Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley and Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson, liberals who are walking point on the project, kicked things off with rosy pitches for all the wonderful things tiny-home complexes can accomplish for the homeless. (City Councilor President Ken Sanchez, in a virtuoso exhibition of political fence-straddling, noted that “millions and millions” of taxpayer dollars have been spent in the area in recent years, so future development might be at risk from a LULU — but then quickly shifted to the need for resources for the homeless, since so many are veterans.)

The county’s Bernadette Miera conducted a lengthy PowerPoint presentation, claiming that the village would provide “a lot of services,” impose “strict rules” on residents, and feature (of course) “public art.” The facility’s purpose, she averred, is to provide a hand up for “folks on their way to self-sufficiency.”

Predictably, neither the pols nor the bureaucrats offered the view-from-orbit perspective. It’s a bitter truth that just about every new expenditure that’s expanded the welfare state since the dawn of the Great Society has been pitched as an “investment” that will “save” taxpayer dollars in years to come. Yet the bill for food programs, child care, higher-education subsidies, cash assistance, “disability” payments, “public” housing, energy assistance, job-training programs, healthcare, etc. continues to increase. If self-sufficiency is the goal, the social-welfare complex has been a staggering failure. It’s a vindication of the axiom that what you subsidize, you get more of.

Many residents were eager to tell their personal stories of encounters with the homeless. A former heroin addict now gainfully employed and living in the neighborhood said he’s grown tired of them “jumping my fence and s******* in my yard.” Others spoke of rebuffed attempts to help the homeless with offers of work. Ralph DePalma, a minister and longtime advocate for the Duke City’s homeless, mentioned the inconvenient fact that many shelters in the metro have empty beds “every night,” and charged that O’Malley, Gibson, and other elected officials have been “bamboozled and mislead” by advocates for tiny homes.

Most notable about the public-comment period was that adamant foes, mild critics, and even project supporters objected to the project’s price tag. Two proponents used the word “ridiculous” to describe the estimated expenditures. One speaker suggested that commercially available mobile homes — with bathrooms — could be obtained for a fraction of the Tiny Home Village’s per-unit cost of $17,000 to $20,000.

O’Malley, who was introduced to boos at the community meeting in the Southeast Heights on August 9th (she wanted to leave “but was persuaded to stay”), closed the show by hectoring the audience: “It’s not enough to feel sorry for people. You gotta do something. You gotta act.”

A better description of America’s welfare policy one is not likely to find. Albuquerque does indeed have a significant homeless problem. But characterizing skeptics of a trendy (think of the carbon footprint!) “solution” as selfish and ignorant isn’t a helpful way to address the crisis. Before the city and county move forward on the Tiny Home Village, a thorough review of past efforts to help the homeless is necessary. Clearly, if there is “a consensus among many in the city” that the “homeless problem is getting worse,” then the revenue spent has had little, if any, impact.

Also needed: Some actual evidence that tiny homes for the homeless have been “proven to work” (O’Malley’s words). The websites of similar projects elsewhere offer plenty of mission statements, timelines, anecdotes, media mentions, and photo galleries. But has homelessness in the regions served by tiny-home villages decreased? What percentage of beneficiaries move on to permanent self-sufficiency after 6, 12, 18 months? How prevalent is drug and/or alcohol abuse? What’s the return on “investment” for taxpayer dollars? That information isn’t available — perhaps because it is never compiled.

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11 Replies to “Skepticism Warranted for ABQ’s Planned Tiny Town”

  1. Has the city or county ever entertained the idea of just giving the homeless a one way bus ticket to Phoenix or Los Angeles?

  2. I have not seen any real comparison of tiny homes cost from different vendors. I have big concerns about the lack of toilet and shower facilities and cooking appliances. The comparison to fully equipped mobile homes is interesting. Communal toilet and shower facilities looks to be a problem unless they are separated by gender.

  3. This is just another handout to make “Poverty” more comfortable and tolerable. It doesn’t have a work requirement and required job training that will get the “residents of the tiny homes” out of poverty and out of the tiny homes. The goal of all welfare programs should be to get people OFF WELFARE

    1. Agreed. I’d only say that there is a pretty large component of the homeless population that can’t work at this point. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of people who never would have gotten to that point if they hadn’t been given handouts, but it is hard to employ crazy people and druggies.

      1. There are limited funds to help people get out of poverty, it shouldn’t be wasted on “crazy people and druggies.” Welfare money should only be spent on people who have a very good chance at getting out of poverty

  4. In the private sector we are building apartments with in house restrooms and kitchens with appliances and granite counter-tops for $70 per sf. We use less land provide parking. Why is it that these tiny houses have none of those amenities yet cost $260 per sf?

    1. Those are excellent questions. Perhaps it is because everything has to be engineered for minimal space, but I’d ask my city councilor or county commissioner.

  5. Do we know enough about the homeless to make intelligent public policy? What percentage are employable people down on their luck vs. addicted or mentally ill? How many are capable of an assisted transition to normal life, and how many will be better served by a treatment facility? If homeless folks are refusing to use existing shelters, where’s the evidence that they will flock to tiny homes? (Where are all those sociologists when we need them?)

    If someone has done some actual research on the homeless population, it would be useful to look at the facts before implementing one-size-fits-all solutions based on vague assumptions.

  6. Wouldn’t buying an empty Big Box Store that is vacant and dividing it into “homeless condos” be a lot cheaper and safer?
    Even buying a couple of them around the city.
    Then, when the number of homeless drops because of Work/Education requirements, the big boxes can be sold back into the commercial market.

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