Albuquerque City Council votes to ban Section 8 discrimination

Hundreds could have an easier time finding a place to live during the ongoing housing crisis

By: - June 7, 2022 4:36 am

Apartments in Downtown Albuquerque (Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

Albuquerque landlords will no longer be able to turn someone away solely because that person is using a Section 8 voucher or other public subsidy, after a 5-4 City Council vote Monday evening. 

The measure, banning what advocates call “source-of-income discrimination,” seeks to help tenants with low incomes find safe and stable housing wherever they deem fit. It would reduce a rolling backlog of as many as 350 people in the city who have vouchers but can’t find a landlord willing to rent to them. The measure heads to Mayor Tim Keller for his signature.

Albuquerque becomes the only city in New Mexico to have such a ban, though cities in other states have taken the step. A similar effort failed in the 2021 state legislative session and was scrapped before the 30-day session this year.

Landlords refuse emergency rent money and Section 8 vouchers

The ban applies to other public subsidies, as well, including money from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a COVID-related relief fund meant to help people stay housed during the pandemic. 

The Council’s decision comes right after the enactment of a new city budget that contains a windfall of new housing funding, including about $19 million toward housing vouchers. 

Section 8 vouchers allow people to pay 30% of their income toward rent, with the federal government picking up the rest of the tab. 

But many landlords refuse Section 8, even though they receive the full rent they ask for. A city survey of 176 landlords found that 65% of them refuse housing vouchers. Thirty-four Craigslist listings on Monday evening contained the phrase “No Section 8.”

Many landlords and the Apartment Association of New Mexico came out against the proposal. A common concern was the additional burden of paperwork and bureaucracy — especially the inspections required by the Housing and Urban Development department that deem a unit habitable. 

Bobby Griffith, the chief financial officer for large property management firm JL Gray, said he supports the goal of the Section 8 program and rents to tenants using Section 8, but said he often encounters two- to three-month waits before getting the first month’s rent. 

“That’s just the way life is for us, a life that we chose,” he said. “But to force this on other small rental property owners is unjust and unfair.”

Councilors and tenant advocacy organizations who support the bill dispute that wait times are that long. Rachel Biggs, chief strategy officer of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, said landlords typically receive their first rent payment with the organization’s help within a few days, right after an inspection is completed. Another provider, the Albuquerque Housing Authority, might take a few weeks to cut the first rent check, she said, because it makes payments only on the first of every month. 

An amendment to the measure before the Council allows landlords to move forward with another tenant if an inspection isn’t completed within five business days.

So Biggs and others hailed the Council’s passage as a major victory in a city facing a housing and homelessness crisis. Rents in Bernalillo County have increased 21% since 2019, according to an analysis in April by the Washington Post.

Councilor Pat Davis, a co-sponsor of the bill, urged landlords to look out for educational materials and outreach designed to help them navigate the new process if someone with a subsidy seeks housing in their properties. The measure allocates $150,000 for that purpose. 

“We’ve appropriated what we believe is a good start …on an advocacy program for landlords, somebody on their side of the table to educate them about how to fill out the forms,” and clear other hurdles” Davis said. 

The measure will take effect 90 days after it is signed by Keller. His administration signaled support for the legislation. 

Councilors who voted against the measure were Louie Sanchez, Dan Lewis, Renée Grout and Trudy Jones. Those in favor were Pat Davis, Isaac Benton, Klarissa Peña, Brook Bassan and Tammy Fiebelkorn.

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.