Thousands of schools fail to count homeless students

For months, Beth Petersen paid acquaintances to take her son to school — money she sorely needed. They’d lost their apartment, her son bouncing between relatives and friends while she hotel-hopped. As hard as she tried to keep the 13-year-old at his school, they finally had to switch districts. Under federal law, Petersen’s son had a right to free transportation — and to remain in the school he attended at the time he lost permanent housing. But no one told Petersen that.

Schools must help homeless students. Here’s what you should know.

This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, The Seattle Times, Street Sense Media and WAMU/DCist. See New Mexico In Depth’s story here. When is a student considered homeless? The definition of homelessness among K-12 students is laid out in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that details the help public schools must give unstably housed children. That includes students living in the following conditions:

motels, hotels or campgrounds when they have no other options.emergency or transitional, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.the homes of friends or extended relatives, due to need rather than choice.

Albuquerque bought site of brutal 2014 murders years ago, spurred by talk of a memorial. But the current plan is for nonprofit office space.

A fenced-off lot near the intersection of Central Avenue and 60th Street, empty except for a portable trailer, a large “no trespassing” sign, overgrown weeds and a pile of debris, marks the site of two brutal murders. 

Kee Thompson and Allison Gorman, members of the Navajo Nation experiencing homelessness, were sleeping there in July 2014 when three Albuquerque teenagers killed them. 

In the days that followed, community members created memorials at the lot, the Albuquerque Journal reported, leaving stuffed animals, candles and a handwritten sign reading: “Let us pray for our homeless people. Keep them safe from evil” and City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez suggested constructing a public memorial at the site. Thompson’s sister, Stephanie Plummer, hoped to see that proposal become a reality. But eight years later, the temporary tributes community members built are long gone and despite the city purchasing the property in 2019, there is no memorial. Current plans are for a nonprofit organization to use the site as office space. 

Peña made a very public push for a memorial at the site in 2016.

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.