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Tenants seek city help amid soaring costs

This apartment complex in Albuquerque’s northeast heights has been advertising tenants. (Albuquerque log file)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

When Mia Augustson’s landlord raised her rent by more than $200 earlier this year, the financial fallout rippled through her life.

Because the increase far exceeded the increase that Augustson and her spouse — both disabled — saw in their income, the couple had to start cutting expenses to make their base rent of $1,046 worth it. Augustson said they ditched their car, postponed some health care and canceled a planned 20th anniversary celebration.

It was difficult but doable.

Now, however, they face another challenge: Upcoming renovations to the resort will displace them once their lease expires at the end of the year. Augustson said she was trying to find a new place that was both suitably set up to meet their physical needs and within budget. At the moment, she says, they have “nowhere to go and really no way to get there because we’ve drained our savings to pay the rent.”

The couple applied for help through a number of programs, she said, but their dual disability income is considered too high to qualify for many programs.

Augustson is among those pushing city leaders to do something to provide relief, saying she’s not sure they fully understand the housing difficulties many city residents are currently facing. .

“We’re talking about people who are personally pretty well insulated from these kinds of disasters,” she said. “They don’t know what it’s like to literally fight for survival in a first world country.”

The city has ample evidence of a problem.

Two years ago, he funded research that found Albuquerque had 15,500 affordable housing units, falling short of meeting the needs of its poorest residents. An Albuquerque housing official says the gap has only widened since that study.

According to Rent.com, the average monthly rent for a bedroom in Albuquerque has increased by 42% during the pandemic. It is now $1,155, down from $1,064 a year ago and $812 at the start of the pandemic, according to data from the online SEO service.

The city’s efforts

Although there are new indications that rental price growth is slowing after unprecedented increases, prices remain a burden for many in Albuquerque, and executives are coming under increasing criticism for their perceived inaction. At a recent city council meeting, a public speaker compared the city’s relief efforts to using bandages to treat an amputated arm. Another told the council ‘there is a humanitarian crisis happening on your watch’.

What is the city doing?

While some citizens are pushing for rent control, councilors and other city officials have pointed out that state law prohibits local governments from adopting such a policy.

But they maintain that they are trying to solve the problem from several angles.

Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for housing, said the city partnered with the state last year to secure millions of federal dollars in rental and utility assistance in the community. The municipal government has also increased spending on rent subsidies or vouchers. There is more than $23 million in municipal and federal bond funding available, including an additional $9.8 million in ongoing annual funding added to the budget this year. It also increased legal and other supports for those facing deportation.

However, Huval said the city sees the main problem as an overall housing shortage. The city simply needs more housing at all price levels.

“One of the main reasons house prices are going up and we’re all feeling the impact is that there’s not enough housing – there’s not enough apartments and not enough of homeownership units,” she said. “From our perspective, solving the housing problem for everyone – not just people (with incomes low enough to qualify for most aid) – is really about increasing the supply of housing.”

The city’s latest initiatives include the purchase and conversion of hotels into affordable budget apartments, which is facilitated by a recent zoning change. The city plans to start with one property and “grow,” Huval said. He’s currently working on buying the Sure Stay Hotel at 10330 Hotel NE, but the deal isn’t done and a city spokeswoman said she couldn’t provide further details on the plan yet.

City Council also this spring approved borrowing $20 million as part of a $100 million gross revenue tax bond package for affordable housing, which Huval says can be used to creation of new units or the acquisition and rehabilitation of properties.


Officials say they are also doing more to prevent those currently housed from descending into instability or homelessness.

The city now has staff inside the eviction court as part of a diversion program, attending more than 6,000 hearings in the first half of 2022. The staff are part of CORA, or the Court Program Outreach for Rental Assistance, and can provide real-time information to renters on how to request assistance or the status of their case if they have already done so. Judges hearing eviction cases may send landlords and tenants to a meeting with a CORA staff member.

“Due to the information provided by CORA staff during these hearings, judges are often delayed in making a final decision,” city spokeswoman Katie Simon said in written responses to Journal questions. though she said the city was unable to track the final results.

The city also has internal and external legal assistance for tenants.

The city’s Office of Civil Rights handles housing complaints and occasionally offers legal representation. The city’s OCR has received 68 housing complaints so far in 2022, according to records provided to the Journal. Callers report issues like landlords not following the housing code or discrimination based on disability, race or other factors protected by the city’s human rights ordinance. Those complaints generated two “thorough” municipal investigations — meaning the government drafted or filed a legal complaint — and, in another case, the office researched the matter. The rest were either handled with one or two phone calls or referred to another agency such as other city departments or outside agencies better able to help, the city reported.

The city currently funds three outside housing attorneys through contracts with New Mexico Legal Aid and the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

Prevention efforts

Riley Masse, the housing stability attorney at New Mexico Legal Aid, said the state is also currently paying additional housing support attorneys to the organization, which specifically serves low-income people. income – this usually means up to 125% of federal poverty. but in some cases up to 200%. The federal poverty level is currently $13,590 for a one-person household.

She said agency attorneys opened up to 20 new cases a week statewide, up from just five earlier in 2022. The growth, she said, coincided with the expiration protections against pandemic-related evictions. The New Mexico Supreme Court had in 2020 imposed a moratorium on eviction cases related to non-payment of rent, but phased it out this spring.

“There are probably more cases than we could (help),” she said. “We just don’t have the capacity to represent as many people as there are calls and we would scale representation priorities.”

Legal Aid also operates a city-paid landlord-tenant hotline – 505-273-5040. It provided housing information to about 1,413 callers in fiscal year 2022, according to the city.

A Legal Aid spokesperson said all are encouraged to call, regardless of income.

“If we cannot take your case due to federal financial restrictions, we will work with you to find the specific programs or nonprofit organizations that can offer assistance,” spokesperson Paxton Patrick said.

Mia Augustson said ongoing efforts in Albuquerque and across the state still leave behind many people who don’t meet income requirements but are still struggling. She said she hoped there would be political will to do something more.

“Production (more housing) is a step in the right direction, but it does absolutely nothing for someone who might be on their butt or who may already be,” she said. declared.

Rent relief has helped over 41,000 ABQ residents

State funds combined with federal funding provided $185.5 million…