Lawmakers move bills to tackle housing crisis

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Two affordable housing measures that aim to tackle a sprawling housing crisis in New Mexico  are in a race against time with eight days left in the 2022 legislative session. 

Currently, across the state lower-income renters grapple with a vast shortage of affordable and available rental units, homelessness ticks upward, and tenants face quick eviction proceedings in court for nonpayment of rent, according to Attorney Maria Griego in a New Mexico In Depth story published in January. 

Senate Bill 134, would inject more money into the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund to bolster programs that help people around the state get into housing and create more affordable housing. 

Sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Nathan P. Small, D-Las Cruces, Senate Bill 134 passed the Senate on Monday 37 to 3, and heads to the House of Representatives where it awaits a hearing in just one committee, the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

The legislation would create year-after-year revenue — called recurring in Roundhouse lingo — for the state’s Housing Trust Fund, by earmarking 2.5% of the state’s senior severance tax bond capacity allocated each year. The approximate value of the infusion would be $25 million in fiscal years 24 and 25, a significant boost over the usual annual allocation for the housing fund, which has fluctuated from $5 million this fiscal year to zero dollars in the fiscal year that ended in June 2018. 

On the Senate floor, Rodriguez said that for every dollar put into the fund, it generates at least 29 to one in return. “Why is it that we have such big problems in New Mexico with affordable housing?” she asked, noting skyrocketing costs that mean many have to spend more than 50% of their income on a mortgage or rental payment and don’t have any funds left to provide for their families.

“Our mental health issues, behavioral health issues, problems that are just huge in New Mexico, all are linked to somebody being homeless or the financial stresses of not being able to provide a payment for their home,” she said. 

The bill received widespread endorsements on the floor from numerous legislators. 

“I’d like to remind the body that all of us are one catastrophic event away from … losing the security of our homes,” said Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Doña Ana, who noted that she had served previously for four years as president of the board of directors of the Mesa Valley Community of Hope, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless people in Doña Ana County. 

Not everyone was on board with the bill. Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, objected to creating an annual appropriation. “You are wanting to tell future legislatures how to spend their money through the … severance tax bond,” he said on the Senate floor. 

The other bill, House Bill 65, sponsored by Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, would provide renters with more protections against eviction. It extends the period of time allowed for paying rent from three to 11 days after it is due, caps the amount that can be charged as a late fee, and clarifies when a tenant may seek to prove retaliation against a landlord. 

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Romero said the bill also allows for 14 to 21 days, instead of seven, to prepare for court and get legal help and 15 to 20 days, instead of seven days, to get new housing and move if evicted.

The measure proved contentious during the House floor debate. 

Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said it increases risk for landlords and predicted it would lead to rents rising, or landlords selling their properties. “To me, when I look at this bill, I understand the intent is to try to protect the tenants in New Mexico, but unfortunately it does quite the opposite,” he said. 

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Chaves & Lincoln, said he’d heard a lot about the bill, particularly from small retirees who own one or two rental properties. He predicted a “cooling of the desire for people to get involved with rental properties.”

Still, the bill passed the House on Saturday by a vote of 38 to 27 and is now waiting to be picked up in the Senate.

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