Anne Turner is afraid her children will step on used hypodermic needles when they play in the grass outside their home at the University of New Mexico’s Student Family Housing (SFH). The housing complex, which is set to close on May 31 of next year, has been no stranger to complaints of unsafe and untenable conditions.
Notice of the residences’ permanent closure came in an email on June 29, marking the climactic end to the tumultuous relationship between SFH and its residents. For Turner, the final straw came a few days later on July 4 when she witnessed police officers arrest two individuals for solicitation, one of whom allegedly had an outstanding warrant.
“After seeing that happen, I was done,” Turner told the Daily Lobo. “I was like, ‘We have to move out of here as soon as possible.’”
But when Turner — now in her third year of pursuing a doctorate in English from UNM — and her family first moved in from Utah to continue her education, SFH offered a better, safer and more affordable alternative to the numerous housing units around the University.
As the months went by, however, SFH’s years of neglect and inadequate infrastructure manifested itself in oft-dangerous ways to Turner and her family.
“They have endangered my children on a number of levels, beginning with issues of safety,” Turner said.
She found numerous safety hazards, from holes in balconies and the fences surrounding SFH to flooding in the laundry room. There is also a “refrigerator graveyard,” where dozens of refrigerators and used appliances are dumped next to the playground.
One incident with Turner’s child included a fall on the playground into hardened soil that ended in them needing immediate medical attention.
Despite this catalog of haphazards that have been present for an extended period of time, SFH’s deterioration has continued into the present.
“In the recent months since (the administration) decided to shut down SFH, they have completely neglected the place,” Turner said. “They’re still not taking it seriously. The only way they’ve taken it seriously is if we’ve gotten them in trouble with some other organization on campus.”
Turner also highlighted the mental taxation the current situation is inducing on her children, not only with the myriad concerns of a global pandemic but with the generally poor conditions of the facilities.
Turner and her partner, Adam Turner, have spent much of their time invested in researching, filing complaints and organizing outside resources to get something done about the problems at SFH.
“I’ve probably spent as many hours on dealing with SFH and their issues and digging and researching and trying to make things safe and listening to neighbors and holding meetings. I’ve probably spent as much on that as I have on my teaching. It’s another job,” Anne Turner said.
Adam Turner would take his two children to UNM’s office of Safety and Risk Services to resolve unanswered issues with Student Family Housing.
And both found their persistent struggle for decent housing as an unusual form of bonding with their neighbors.
Anne Turner said one of the worst things about SFH closing is the loss of “a very diverse, tight-knit community.”
“I have never felt like I’ve been in a more welcoming neighborhood,” she said. “It has become a family in a lot of respects, a lot of which we owe to our fight with the University to take care of (SFH’s issues).”
The Turner’s neighbors and many residents of Student Family Housing are international students who now find themselves caught between global forces like the pandemic, fluctuating legislation regarding visas for international students and the impending closure of SFH.
Anne Turner frequented culture-themed parties and dinners during her family’s tenure as SFH residents, celebrating a family’s country of origin with customary regalia. She said she wanted her children “growing up next to children who have heritage from India or from Thailand, Nigeria, China…”
But the Turners are concerned that international students won’t be given the adequate resources to continue studying at UNM upon SFH’s closure.
“I call on the University to find those creative solutions and to find them quickly to care for the international students so they don’t lose them,” Turner said.
Gabriel Biadora is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora