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City Tackles Abandoned Properties Issue

photo of 600 block mesquite street By Suzanne Michaels

The City of Las Cruces is actively addressing the issue of what to do with abandoned and vacant homes that result from situations ranging from fires to foreclosures to death.

City Manager Stuart Ed recently created the Neighborhood Action Team (NAT) composed of several high-level City officials and staff to stay abreast of the issue on an ongoing basis and provide appropriate solutions.

In addition, a Citizen Steering Committee will be created to provide input to the NAT, and a Citizen Assistance Program will be outsourced through local community providers to contribute social work and case management assistance to property owners in need on a case-by-case basis.

Of the approximately 39,000 households in Las Cruces, the City has compiled a list of slightly more than 200 properties, including some businesses, that fall into the “abandoned” category. According to Deputy Police Chief Miguel Dominguez, “These properties contribute to deterioration of neighborhoods, and in some cases, increase the crime and fear of crime in the community.” A vacant home or business, disintegrating with no maintenance (think trash, knee-high weeds, sagging fences, a backyard swimming pool teeming with mosquito larvae, and roof leaks that eventually result in a collapsed roof) becomes not only a magnet for vandalism, but also a public health issue and a drag on surrounding property values.

Solving the problem involves a range of City departments: Police, Fire, Legal, Community Development, and Public Works. The property belonged to someone at one time, so initial moves are made to track down missing owners or heirs who have not taken responsibility for the property.

After a reasonable amount of time and investigation, if it’s a dead-end search, the City has clear ordinances to determine what to do with the property. In accordance with municipal ordinance, the City can board up a vacant building to prevent unauthorized occupancy and destruction of property, but the task force agrees that is just an initial step and a more permanent solution must be found for abandoned properties. As part of that effort, Las Cruces is researching how other New Mexico cities manage this issue.

Interim Assistant City Manager Loretta Reyes, who chairs the NAT, explains, “The goal of this task force is to establish an inter-departmental approach and standard practice for addressing abandoned and nuisance structures and properties in Las Cruces.”

Codes Enforcement (a section of the Las Cruces Police Department) is taking the lead identifying properties throughout the City that are abandoned. James A. Chavez, Chief of Codes Enforcement, says, “Our first step is to develop a comprehensive list of abandoned properties. Anyone who knows of a property that is abandoned is asked to contact our office at (575) 528-4100 and alert us to the address.”

CUTLINES:

PHOTO 1: This abandoned property in the 600 block of Mesquite Street was damaged by fire and has been sitting vacant. The City boarded up the building to prevent entrance by unwanted parties and possible additional damage to the property.