For many senior residents of the Villa Alegre Apartments in Santa Fe, these are dark days instead of golden years.
They say management of the publicly subsidized units is brusque and pitiless. It has decreed that many flowers and shrubs outside their units will be uprooted as soon as Tuesday.
One female tenant, calling herself a young 83, said the edict makes no sense and would take away a part of life she enjoys.
“I love to garden,” she said. “I have a small lilac tree and forsythia bush in front of my unit that I take very good care of, as well as a great garden in my back patio area that I had planted over eight years ago. I was given permission by the original manager.”
Times have changed at the complex, operated by Monarch Properties Inc. of Albuquerque.
The on-site manager, James Edwards, last week wrote a letter to residents outlining rules that will be enforced. One is ridding the complex of wildflowers, bushes and trees.
“Per the owners, anything that was not planted by the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority will either be trimmed or removed,” Edwards stated. “Anything planted in the ground in front of or on the sides of the apartments will be removed.
“As mentioned, several notices already have been issued and more than enough reminders have been given about these ongoing issues. Going forward if the issues persist, there will be no more warnings and a seven-day notice of noncompliance will be issued.”
Any resident who receives two of these notices within six months will be evicted from the complex at 244 Villa Alegre St., Edwards wrote in the letter.
When I called Edwards for an interview, he seemed ready to sidestep any questions.
“We don’t necessarily give comment to the media,” he said.
But he elaborated a bit, saying tenants had agreed to the conditions being imposed by signing their lease.
In reviewing lease agreements, which are between the housing authority and individual tenants, I found no mention of a prohibition on planting flowers or plants in front or alongside apartment units. A lawyer who checked the lease of the woman who likes to garden didn’t find any restrictions, either.
Edwards, after citing lease agreements as his authority to remove shrubbery, said there was another reason for the change.
The ownership group wants “uniformity in appearance,” he told me.
Villa Alegre has 60 apartments for families and 50 for senior citizens.
I met with several of the senior tenants. They were eager to talk, but feared retribution if their names appeared in the newspaper.
Most said they had nowhere to go if they got on the bad side of management and were evicted.
“We live in terror,” one man said. “They’re supposed to be helping old people, but there is no humanity here.”
He is among the tenants who oppose the removal of flowers and plants that residents have added to the complex.
“Who could object to a snapdragon or a morning glory?” he said.
A female tenant said the atmosphere is tense because management is autocratic.
“It’s almost like they don’t want us to enjoy living here,” she said.
The woman whose interest is gardening said citations for failing to comply with one rule or another are common.
As someone versed in botany, she allows that there’s rationale for removing a few plants.
Towering hollyhocks have sprouted in parts of the complex. Their ornate flowers can obscure a problem.
“They have gotten out of control because they are so invasive,” she said.
But, like other residents, she disagrees with the blanket plan to destroy any shrubs and flowers that weren’t planted by the housing authority. Many of these plants have brightened the place for years, she said.
“One woman even collapsed when she learned her precious flowers would be torn out. That’s all she has,” said the tenant whose pastime is gardening.
The residents I interviewed, most in their 70s or 80s, said they appreciate the quality of their apartments and the discounted rent that helps them to survive. Still, they said, Villa Alegre is not an easy place to live.
“Just because one is poor and old does not mean she is without intelligence, awareness, experience,” said the woman who gardens. “There is no respect on this property for the elderly.”
Residents initially called me because they want to save their shrubbery. But they have a grievance that runs deeper than the roots of any plant.
It’s difficult for them to make much noise. They just don’t want to be treated as voiceless.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.