Lawmakers move bills to tackle housing crisis

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.

Lawmakers push forward housing bills

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.

For the low income, housing is scarce — a challenge state lawmakers hope to address this session

Cree Walker and her four children live in one room with two beds at an Albuquerque hotel that allows long-term stay. Credit: Marjorie Childress

New Mexico has a housing crisis. Homelessness is up and the inventory of homes and apartments is down. 

Ask Cree Walker, a 32-year-old mother of four children ages 5 to 12 who has experienced the crisis firsthand. “I haven’t been able to find anything,” said Walker, who has hunted for housing for six months. The 32 year old, who grew up in Pecos, moved to Idaho then returned to New Mexico but has scarce family to call on for help.

Developers throwing money into race for mayor

Crime makes headlines, but more pragmatic considerations may explain the money flowing into the Albuquerque mayoral race. While fundraising this election has lagged compared to prior campaign years, a significant chunk of the money reported has come from individuals and companies in the business of developing and selling land. Half of the money flowing into a political action committee (PAC) supporting Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales comes from development interests. And a quarter of the more than $500,000 he has personally raised since District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid upheld the Albuquerque City Clerk’s decision to deny him public financing comes from that industry. Big spenders supporting Gonzales have names like Daskalos, a family of developers who’ve funneled at least $27,000 into the race through various entities.

Publicly funded stadiums boost quality of life. But economy? Not so much.

Albuquerque voters will decide in November whether the city should foot the bill for a new soccer stadium. Unlike a proposal to build a downtown multi-use arena that percolated in the mid-2000s, this one could become reality. 

That’s because the city has a new professional soccer team that has proven popular. New Mexico United games in 2019, its first year, drew more than 12,000 fans on average to its Albuquerque matches in the city’s baseball stadium. Now, the team wants the city to build a stadium specifically for soccer, which, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the city, is required under United Soccer League (USL) rules after a team’s third year. 

But the payoff for Albuquerque in economic terms is far from certain, according to multiple economists who said publicly financed sports stadiums rarely justify the expense with new jobs or economic activity. And there are concerns among some residents about the impact of the stadium on surrounding neighborhoods, as well as how millions in public dollars could be better spent. 

Lisa Padilla, the president of the Barelas Neighborhood Association, said she has mixed feelings about the construction of the new soccer stadium.