Just north of where Cerrillos Road starts to get industrial—the road widens, and local hardware stores and Mexican-food joints change to car dealerships and big-box stores—there’s a modest public housing complex for elderly Santa Feans. Most of the homes are undecorated but neat, and the only real landscaping are patchy, yellowed lawns and a few sycamores.
Amï Diallo’s home is different. It’s an oasis brimming with tulips and irises, surrounded by a row of towering poplars whose leaves turn bright gold in the fall. Most days, Diallo works in her garden, clearing leaves, watering or decorating the dried gourds she sells as art.
Earlier this month, officials from the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority—the private housing organization that oversees Diallo’s HUD (Housing and Urban Development) subsidized complex—spray-painted white hatch marks demarcating the new boundaries of Diallo’s garden. Outside the hatch marks are the parts of the garden Diallo expects the Civic Housing Authority to chop down and cart away: cherry trees bursting with pale pink flowers, carefully pruned rosebushes, neat clusters of hollyhocks and pansies.
“I’ve spent 10 years building this garden,” Diallo says, her voice nearly breaking. “I can’t believe they’re really going to do this.”
Ed Romero, the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority’s executive director, tells SFR via email that all residents at La Cieneguita, Diallo’s public housing complex, are allotted 400 square feet of garden space upon request.
“[Diallo’s] garden is not being removed but defined to a certain size,” Romero notes.
The decision, following unsuccessful attempts to mediate, “is but one of many issues of contention between residents at this site,” Romero tells SFR. This conflict, he writes, has led to citations for everything from unauthorized pets and “hanging clothes to dry” to “physical and verbal altercations” and lawsuits.
One of those lawsuits is ongoing and involves Diallo and a neighbor, 85-year-old Patricia Street. Citing continued conflict, Street and Diallo requested a mutual permanent restraining order last June. Diallo also filed a separate case against Street in Santa Fe Magistrate Court last July alleging damages from when Diallo says Street attacked her with a mop.
“I’m 5’2” and weigh about 110,” Street counters. “I couldn’t beat up anything. I don’t have an ounce of strength; I use a walker in the house. I certainly am not going to get in a fight with an Amazon.”
Diallo has also accused Street of encouraging her Chihuahua, Daisy, to poop in Diallo’s garden—a charge Street emphatically denies.
Diallo and Street have lived at La Cieneguita for 10 and eight years. Neither recalls precisely when or how the trouble started. But last July, in an attempt at resolution, Street and Diallo met with attorneys, other neighbors and the Civic Housing Authority. Susan Turetsky, the executive director of the NM Landlord/Tenant Hotline, served as hearing officer. (Because of her involvement, Turetsky tells SFR she is “not at liberty to discuss” the issue of Diallo’s garden.)
A copy of Turetsky’s meeting report, which draws on years’ worth of complaints to the Civic Housing Authority, states that public housing residents have “exclusive use of the interior space but not the outdoor space.” Turetsky prescribed a resolution: that Diallo’s garden be grandfathered because “it was approved by HUD many years ago,” that Diallo consent to water during approved times and not expand the garden; and that Street keep Daisy from relieving herself there.
But, apparently, even that hasn’t worked. While Romero says that due to confidentiality issues he can’t go into all the reasons behind the Civic Housing Authority’s decision to curtail the garden, he does offer this insight: “The garden issue is only a symptom of a greater conflict between residents,” Romero writes to SFR.
“Sometimes too much of a good thing is bad…We are not asking Ms. Diallo to stop gardening only to practice this in moderation with reasonable limits.”
The downsizing is expected within a few weeks.
To Diallo, being left with less than half of her nearly 1,000-square-foot garden seems unreasonable.
“What I love most is my garden,” Diallo says. “When you start taking away people’s things, it doesn’t solve any problems; it exacerbates the problem.”