Lawmakers push forward housing bills

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A camp under the I-40 overpass in Albuquerque. Image: Marjorie Childress.

Two housing measures aimed at alleviating New Mexico’s housing crisis passed their first legislative committees this week, but with just over three weeks in the session, the bills face a race against time and numerous legislative hearings. 

The bills mean to address a multi-layered housing crisis in which overall homelessness has increased, eviction has become a greater threat for low-income renters, and homes for low-income renters or first-time homebuyers are in short supply. The problems are interconnected, with greater demand for housing pushing rents up, and lower-income families finding it increasingly difficult to afford shelter.   

The pandemic has only aggravated the situation. “In the past year, rent has increased 13.7 percent nationwide and 18.5 percent in Albuquerque,” according to legislative analysts in a fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 19 in which they cited statistics from the Yardi Matrix National Multifamily Report.  The fiscal impact report, based on data from the New Mexico Association of Realtors, also noted a steep rise in home prices, with the median home sale price jumping from $185,000 in 2016 to $290,500 in 2021. 

Senate Bill 19, which cleared the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, would boost the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund by $70 million. The cash infusion would enable the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA) to significantly expand programs that help people find and stay in housing, and it would help build affordable housing outright.

“We’ve always needed more homes, more affordable homes, in New Mexico,” Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, the bill’s sponsor and a Santa Fe Democrat, said during Monday’s hearing in front of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. “But now with this pandemic, it’s exacerbated not only the need for more homes, but rental assistance, weatherization, and … rehabilitation.” 

The ask is a big increase in funding. “Last year, we came up with approximately I think it was … five million dollars in appropriations,” Rodriguez told her fellow lawmakers. 

But the need is great.

New Mexico’s affordable housing supply has been on the decline since the 1990s, the fiscal impact report noted. The funding would help “acquire, build, rehabilitate, preserve, finance, weatherize and/or provide energy efficient upgrades for affordable housing units,” and could create 4,578 affordable homes.

In addition to housing stock, there’s a great need for rental assistance throughout the state. 

“… in 2020 a total of 10,991 New Mexicans were enrolled in the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program and 17,252 New Mexicans were enrolled in an MFA housing assistance program,” legislative analysts reported in their fiscal impact report for another housing bill, and in their evaluation entitled Stacking of Income Supports.   

That legislation, House Bill 65, aims to bolster people’s ability to stay in rental units, by providing more rights to tenants faced with evictions. Sponsored by representatives Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, and Angelica Rubio, D-Doña Ana, the bill would take effect immediately if the Legislature passes and the governor signs the bill rather than the beginning of the next fiscal year, which is July 1. 

The bill passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a vote of three to one Tuesday and would give renters more time to pay rent after the landlord provides a written notice of nonpayment, increasing the current three-day window to eleven, before their landlord can use late payments as a reason to evict. It requires landlords to provide written or electronic receipts for their rent and prohibits ending or refusing to renew a rental agreement during a declared emergency.

And if a tenant appeals an eviction in court, it would prevent the landlord from kicking the tenant out until the appeal process is concluded. 

“You’ve all heard this bill many, many times last session,” Rubio said Tuesday during the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee hearing. “…We have the support of folks in industry and others who believe that this is a fundamental start to how we… build a really strong, comprehensive housing plan here in New Mexico,” Rubio said.  

Rachel Biggs of Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless described the bill as her organization’s number one priority in a story published last week by New Mexico In Depth.

Senate Bill 19 and House Bill 65 each have one more legislative committee hearing. If they clear those committees, they would get a full vote in the floor of the Senate and House, respectively.Then each bill would head to the other chamber for discussion.

Senate Bill 19 heads to the Senate Finance Committee, where Rodriguez is the vice chair. 

The Senate Finance Committee has delayed hearing appropriation bills like Senate Bill 19 until it has received the state budget bill, House Bill 2, from the House, Sen.Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said in an email. 

“The Housing Trust fund is in HB2, so for it the issue will be whether or not to increase it above the House’s version,” Ortiz y Pino said. 

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