Lift Up Las Cruces is the City Manager’s first major anti-poverty program

LAS CRUCES — City Manager Ifo Pili said the city’s new approach to poverty is to fight it with a “sniper approach” rather than a “shotgun approach.” hunt”.

On July 30, Pili and her team will invite community stakeholders, residents, business owners and non-profit organizations to a public block party to launch Lift Up Las Cruces, the first anti-poverty initiative of this type in the city. The block party is scheduled to be held on Ash Avenue, within the program catchment area.

The city’s fiscal year 2023 budget includes an allocation of $278,000 from the city’s Telshor Facility Fund, a reserve fund to help low-income and sick city residents, the Lift Up Las Cruces program . Pili said the city also applied for federal funding to help fund it.

Lift Up Las Cruces will be the city manager’s first major program aimed at alleviating poverty since he was hired by the city council nearly two years ago. There have been smaller steps before — the city manager moved the housing department under economic development and authorized a virtual seminar for city employees on poverty — but Lift Up promises to be the effort the most. most comprehensive and public yet to tackle one of the city’s major crises.

Nearly one in four Las Crucens, or about 23.6 percent according to the latest US Census Bureau estimates, live in poverty. Crime and homelessness, two issues often linked to poverty, have featured more prominently in public discourse in recent months than in the past three years as some business owners and landlords complained property crimes and the sometimes aggressive behavior of some homeless people. people.

Las Cruces City Manager Ifo Pili speaks during the Faith for the Unhoused meeting at Las Cruces City Hall Thursday, June 30, 2022.

Pili was hired with a dual mandate of economic development and poverty alleviation. A year into his term, he told the Sun-News he considered the two questions to be inseparable. In this way, Pili said he is prioritizing economic development strategies that simultaneously tackle poverty, such as a focus on affordable housing, workforce development and employment. attraction of well-paying jobs.

Lift Up will initially target an area of ​​the city where crime and poverty are both high. The city in part created an area using the Distressed Communities Index, a project of the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group that examines economic conditions at the zip code level using seven socioeconomic data points.

“The goal is not to stay there,” Pili said. “We will follow (the data), then we will move and finally the goal is to reach the whole city… But we start with the areas that need the most (help). ”

The chosen area is bounded by North Solano Drive, East Madrid Avenue, Anita Drive, North Triviz Drive and Spruce Avenue in the 88001 ZIP Code, and includes winding residential roads on which sit rows of small single-family, single-story homes. . The chosen area also includes Doña Ana Park Apartments, Oñate Greens Mobile Home Park, St. Genevieve Village Senior Apartments, and Loma Heights Elementary School. Businesses line the borders of Solano and Madrid.

Of the 1,428 households in the region, 48% earned an income below the poverty line in the past year and 69% of households earned less than $39,000 per year. More than half of residents, 57%, identify as black, Indigenous or people of color, according to data compiled by the city.

Ash Avenue, one of the streets in the Lift Up Las Cruces target area, Thursday, July 14, 2022. The chosen area is bounded by North Solano Drive, East Madrid Avenue, Anita Drive, North Triviz Drive and Spruce Avenue, in the zip code 88001.

Pili said the city wants Lift Up Las Cruces to be as much of a community effort as it is an urban effort. In this way, the city plans to target its existing programs within the “footprint” served by Lift Up instead of, say, launching a slew of new government programs. At the same time, he studies the addresses in the footprint to assess what the region wants and needs most from the city.

“We’re increasing access because we’re bringing services to them instead of people having to find services,” said Natalie Green, the city’s housing and neighborhood services manager.

Instead of new government programs, the city hopes to encourage community organizations and businesses to foster programs that meet community needs.

“We want to identify the projects that the city is going to do,” Pili said. “But I think, more importantly, we want the community to identify projects as well. So all of the non-profit organizations, the faith community… We really want businesses around the area to get involved and really own the community.

“We’re not going to say that we as a government know better about you,” Green said. “It’s ‘What do you want us to do?'”

The city manager said the Lift Up program was not unique. A similar effort was successful in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

“You fix the infrastructure, you focus on crime, you clean up. It just becomes a better place to invest,” Pili said.

But the city manager said the launch of Lift Up does not mean the city government will pull resources from other areas.

“We are responsible for the whole city, so we are not going to leave,” Pili said. “We’re not going to pull resources from other areas and put them here. We’ll just focus here.

For example, the city’s pavement management program — which uses software to determine which streets the public works department should prioritize for pavement maintenance to ensure maximum efficiency of limited resources — does not hold up. an area’s poverty rate or crime rate, Pili said. . With Lift Up, Pili said there will be an “additional layer” that will be used to prioritize the footprint when deciding which streets will be improved and maintained.

Ash Avenue, one of the streets in the Lift Up Las Cruces target area, Thursday, July 14, 2022. The chosen area is bounded by North Solano Drive, East Madrid Avenue, Anita Drive, North Triviz Drive and Spruce Avenue, in the zip code 88001.

The city will likely prioritize the area for installing new streetlights and removing trash. Pili said Parks and Recreation plans to house more programs at Apodaca Park, which sits just outside the footprint at its northwest corner.

“Every time you fix something, it has a positive trend in economic terms,” ​​said Francisco Pallares, deputy director of economic development. “The safer it looks, the more investment tends to go into the community…It’s usually kind of a positive cycle.”

Although the city manager does not know the effectiveness of Lift Up, he believes that it will have some success in reducing poverty and crime.

“I think we’re going to see an improvement, even if it’s anecdotal,” Pili said. “The ultimate goal is really to move that dial, to move that index, in the positive direction.”

Pili said the city will assess the impact of the program a year from now to get a better idea of ​​what realistic expectations it can set for poverty reduction. But Pallares said some data, such as crime, is tracked and available more frequently than other data, such as poverty, which can make success difficult to gauge in the short term.

The city said organizations interested in getting involved with Lift Up Las Cruces should email [email protected]

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Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

Ryan H. Bowman