Residence Life and Student Housing announced in late June that the Student Family Housing (SFH) complex near south campus would shut down in May 2021 due to insurmountable renovation costs, giving residents time to pack their belongings and find a new place to live.
However, some residents are questioning the University of New Mexico administration’s stated reason why SFH is closing.
A number of Student Family Housing tenants claim that UNM has been a negligent landlord and treated the SFH complex differently than other potential — and completed — construction projects on campus.
“‘We’ve come to the conclusion that now we can’t fix this place, and the better solution is to shut it down than fix it,’” Ramon Owens, a current tenant at SFH, surmised about the shutdown decision.
Another tenant, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the University failed at the most basic level — keeping the housing units in a livable condition.
“They’re not kicking me out because I’m a bad tenant or because I’m not meeting some requirements,” they said. “They’re kicking me out because they’re choosing not to repair this place. As far as I understand it, if they had just done basic maintenance while they’ve been owners of this community — basic maintenance — we wouldn’t be having the problems that we’re in.”
When Owens first moved into SFH in August of 2019, empty refrigerators sitting by the playground posed a potential safety issue for children and presented the first of many problems that he — as well as other tenants — would encounter there.
“You already kind of feel out of place being twice the age, almost, of the average student starting out, and now it feels like they’re saying they don’t care,” tenant Christine Johnson said. “They don’t maintain stuff very well, and they don’t reply to the issues you have. Now they’re just kind of kicking us out with no support being given through making this transition. It’s like they just don’t care about us, and it sucks.”
Other residents expressed frustration at UNM forcing them out during the coronavirus pandemic, questioning the safety of the situation.
“I would never consider moving during a global pandemic if I wasn’t being
forced to do so against my will,” tenant Anissa Duwaik said, putting heavy emphasis on the word “never.”
Other problems with the complex detailed by residents include security issues, squatters and hard drug paraphernalia littering the grounds.
The SFH website states that the complex has “an access controlled and gated community and includes student safety staff in the evenings and UNM Police Department patrol presence.”
Owens, however, scoffed at the idea that the gate and surrounding fencing keeps anyone unwanted out. Johnson said the gate is often malfunctioning, and Duwaik said the gate gives her a false sense of security.
Multiple residents confirmed that people experiencing homelessness have been found squatting in vacant SFH units on multiple occasions, including some who they believe have been charged with criminal drug possession. Tenants have also found drug paraphernalia — such as hypodermic needles associated with heroin or methamphetamine use — in empty apartments and around the community.
Residents are encouraged to call UNMPD if they see any problems, but Owens said he would fear for his life should he have to call the police to report something suspicious.
“I’m a black male — if I call UNMPD, they might shoot me,” he said.
With SFH right off of Buena Vista Drive, gunshots are commonly heard from the street. Owens bought a firearm to protect his family and is now awaiting disciplinary action from the University, since the SFH Community Living Guide prohibits any possession of firearms.
Duwaik and Johnson said theft is commonplace at SFH as well, with personal items like bicycles and hammocks routinely stolen from the property.
“There is a lot that would normally be forgiven if they were just protecting us or taking care of us or even giving a shit about us as students, and the University doesn’t, obviously,” the anonymous tenant said.
They recalled an incident in their old unit at SFH where a leak in their ceiling resulted in parts of the material collapsing into the sink. Communication issues through the maintenance department delayed a response, and they eventually had to move into a different unit nearby.
Owens said he doesn’t allow his children on the grounds of SFH at all — they go straight from the car to the apartment.
Other safety concerns are also prominent, such as asbestos — a carcinogenic building material — saturating the nearly 50-year-old structures.The SFH Community Living Guide reports that UNM Environmental Affairs found asbestos in floor tiles, ceiling material and between drywall sheets in 2000 and encourages residents to “not penetrate or expose these areas.”
“Between the thefts, shootings and asbestos, this place is a disgrace,” Duwaik said.
Some residents fear retaliation for speaking up about the living conditions at SFH. Johnson mentioned an incident when she slipped on icy stairs in winter while carrying her son because the steps had not been treated with salt, unlike the rest of campus. Her husband posted his frustration online and a UNM housing representative contacted the couple threatening eviction, stating that the issue was their responsibility in accordance with their lease.
“This is not something that started happening yesterday. This has been going on for years,” Owens said.
Owens lived at Lobo Rainforest Building before SFH and said the difference in treatment is astonishing.
“We’re older, so we’re not a priority,” he said. “We’re not looked at as the future — we’re looked at as a burden.”
The Rainforest Building was completed in 2017 at a cost of $35 million. Scott, the Institutional Support Services spokesperson, said the cost of replacing the aging Student Family Housing facilities was projected at $45 million.
A lot of tenants are “like a system for each other,” Owens said, referring to the many foreign students that reside at SFH and find a support system with other international students. These residents will soon be forced out of that community.
“It feels like (UNM doesn’t) value their adult learners, and they don’t value their international students,” Johnson said.
Johnson and her husband, as well as the anonymous tenant, were planning to pursue graduate degrees at UNM but have decided against it because of the way they have been treated at SFH.
“I will give up on my grad school dream, I will quit UNM and I will move home,” the anonymous student said.
They also complained that UNM is pooling money in the wrong direction, such as the recent Johnson Gym renovation or the new Physics and Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science Building, while capital improvements for older buildings are neglected. The $35 million Johnson Gym renovation was funded through an increase in student fees, while the Physics and Astronomy building was funded through a general obligation Bond.
Neither funding mechanism was considered for the Student Family Housing complex.
“Somebody needs to let people know what is going on in this neighborhood and in Student Family Housing,” Owens said.
Megan Gleason is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716