By Lynn Janes

On November 3, 2022, the Grant County Community Health Council met. Valerie Kling, co-chair, called the meeting to order and facilitated it. She said this meeting will be the first in person one they had held in some time. In part due to covid and low involvement from the public. She expressed hoping to have more involvement in the future. At this time, they have positions to be filled. 

They started out by giving a presentation on the mission and vision statements of the organization. The mission statement says they want to be a catalyst to enhance the quality of life in Grant County through collaborative assessment, planning, prioritizing, and coordinating efforts. The vision would be to attain emotional, physical, and social wellbeing for the community. They envision a diverse, active, and competent health council. 

The council started in 1991 and morphed and grew to the present Grant County Community Health Council in 1998. Currently they have been low-staffed and have been encouraging recruitment and community participation. 

Currently they receive funding from NMDOH (New Mexico Department of Health) and NMAHC (New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils). They also work with various county entities. They have a multitude of areas that people in the community might fit in, and they encouraged people to look into what they can do. 

The county entities’ steering committee include Grant County Commissioners, county manager; Priscilla Lucero, safety and public policy network; Marilyn Alcorn, senior services network; Karen Whitlock and Steve Chavira, anti-poverty and economic development network; Dr. Cindy Martinez and Terry Anderson, children, and youth services network. They have two others, but the seats currently are vacant—outreach and wellness network and behavior health and substance misuse prevention. 

The organization has several primary goals—Meet grant-based deliverables. These would include capacity building, CHIP (community health improvement planning) process, homeless initiatives, and harm risk initiatives. The members plan a strategic planning session, recruitment and participation of the community and continue to hold steering committee meetings and general meetings. 

CHIP will be the most important part of the health councils and the Tribal Health Council Act (HB137). By showing that health councils can provide comprehensive community health planning it will show justification for increased and long-term funding to help provide more staff to ease the administrative burden. 

The purpose of HB 137 has been to develop community-based health planning to identify local health needs and priorities. This works in tandem with the New Mexico State Health Improvement Plan to provide a framework for public health systems statewide.  If anyone would like to be involved, they would need to contact Evangeline Zamora, eholguinzamora@gmail.com

The meeting also included a presentation by Donna Maestas DeVries with New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.  MFA housing acts as a state entity with a board and legislative oversight committee. They exist to provide low- and moderate-income families with housing. 

DeVries provided everyone with documents showing data going back multiple years concerning housing, incomes, and families. She said 40,000 homes in New Mexico lack complete kitchens and complete plumbing. She also gave a projection of the housing needs for the state in the next thirteen years, this had even been broken down into age groups. Grant County population will decrease 500-1449 households by 2035 according to MFA documents. 

The gap between income and rental costs for all of the state had been compiled. Lucero said, “The data for this was done on a local level and just recently.” The study shows that in Grant County 500-999 households will be faced with finding rentals they can afford which will be a shared problem throughout the state. DeVries pointed out some of this had been due to people that “rent down.” That translates to people that rent lower-income properties when they have an income that would allow them to rent higher-cost rentals leaving low-income people with less ability to find rentals. A discussion about that problem and the term of homeless used when people do have a roof over their heads with family or friends went on for a while. 

Another problem addressed that not only as a state but nationwide the median income has not kept up with the increase in cost of homes. Nationwide and statewide has had a lack of affordable housing. 

New Mexico has an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people experiencing homelessness. That includes 9,000 children. 

Lucero commented on how eye-opening these statistics are and how the county needs to deal with it. William Hawkins, Silver Consolidated Schools superintendent, commented on how many families they have that have the situation of being homeless. A discussion went on about the many different programs becoming available with the state and federal government. They also talked about rehabbing abandoned homes, old hotels, etc. They talked about funds for upgrading homes that didn’t have adequate or unpermitted septic tanks. DeVries said the Legislature currently had been interested and willing to put the money out. “All they needed to do was get the word out.”

If anyone is interested in more information concerning the MFA, they can contact Donna Maestas-Devries at dmaestas-devries@housingnm.org or call 505-767-2225

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