A Clovis apartment complex where a tenant is being evicted for non-payment, pictured Feb. 5. Clovis was one of the first cities in New Mexico where evictions resumed as the courts tested out a pilot diversion program. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)
Tenants and advocates in Santa Fe said Tuesday they are hoping for big changes to a new eviction diversion program before it is rolled out across New Mexico sometime this month, replacing a 2-year-old eviction ban here.
Cathy Garcia, a member of the tenant advocacy group Chainbreaker Collective, said at a news conference Tuesday that landlords should be required to participate in the newly created Eviction Diversion and Prevention Program when they bring their tenants to court.
The diversion program is designed to replace a ban imposed by the Supreme Court on evictions for non-payment of rent. At the moment, landlords and tenants have to opt in to the newly created program. If they both do, the eviction case is put on hold for 60 days to allow the parties to connect with the emergency rent fund.
The fund has at least $200 million remaining for tenants to spend for up to 15 months of owed back-rent or utilities. Tenants and landlords can qualify if the pandemic indirectly or directly hurt their incomes, and if they make less than 80% of their area’s median income.
Housing law experts have previously expressed concerns that landlords have no incentive to participate in the new diversion program. Often, landlords have already received money judgments in their favor and won’t want to wait another 60 days to go ahead with an eviction, experts said.
Garcia said she would like the court and N.M.state agency in charge of administering an emergency rent fund to consider several modifications before the ban is lifted across the state this month, as well. She’d also like to see the state boost awareness of resources available to tenants and make it easier to apply.
“I also want to just emphasize that all of this is changing moment by moment. So anything could still happen,” she said at the news conference.
It’s not yet clear when tenants in all of New Mexico will be vulnerable to eviction if they are behind in rent. A Supreme Court order lifting the eviction ban states simply that it will happen in March, and no decision has yet been reached about a date, a spokesperson said this week.
At the moment, the eviction ban has been lifted only in Curry and Roosevelt Counties as part of a pilot program that began Feb. 1.
Two tenants also spoke at the news conference about their challenges navigating the rental assistance application process, though both were ultimately successful. State officials have previously defended how federal emergency rent dollars are being distributed in N.M., saying 99% of applicants here get approved for rent assistance and noting that the state spent $100 million toward rent and utilities, an “important milestone” that has kept tenants housed during the pandemic.
About 30,000 households across the state have received rental and utility assistance, according to the state.
It’s not yet clear what eviction courts will face here when the ban is lifted. Two databases that track eviction filings – the Princeton Eviction Lab and NMEvictions.Org – in the state have not yet recorded spikes in new filings this month, according to their websites.
Garcia said the collective, at least in Santa Fe, is anticipating a wave of evictions from landlords who have been legally unable to evict tenants for being behind on rent for the last two years. With that, she expects a crush of tenants to apply for the emergency rent help and hopes there will be capacity at state offices to process them in time to help renters get money and stay housed.
“We know that right now, if the eviction moratorium is lifted, there’s probably going to be a run and a glut of applications,” she said. “So we definitely want to make sure we’re also taking into account reasonable timelines for application filling out, application processing and the actual distribution of those funds.”
Rent has become increasingly unaffordable in Santa Fe during the pandemic. A study citing postings on ApartmentList.com found that rents have increased 25% over the last year. That’s the 12th-highest rate in the country.
An information session will be held Saturday in Santa Fe connecting tenants with the rent assistance, providing legal advice and ensuring they know their rights ahead of the eviction ban being lifted.
Where: Genoveva Chavez Community Center at 3221 Rodeo Road
When: Saturday, March 5, at 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Who: City of Santa Fe, Chainbreaker, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness
Chainbreaker’s Eviction Protection Hotline is (505) 577-5481
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