As many as 20,000 New Mexicans experience homelessness over the course of the year

Commonly cited “point-in-time” estimates do not capture the entire picture, lawmakers heard this week

By: - July 14, 2023 4:00 am

The Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight Committee met on July 7 in downtown Albuquerque. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

The most commonly cited data point for tracking how many New Mexicans do not have homes is underestimating the actual number of unhoused people in the state.

By a lot.

At the beginning of 2023, there were an estimated 3,842 unhoused people in the state, according to a point-in-time count conducted each year by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.

According to a presentation to lawmakers from the Coalition, the more accurate figure is likely to be between 19,000 and 20,000 — almost five times higher than the point-in-time estimates.

The 20,000 figure is higher than the point-in-time count because it includes everyone at risk of or experiencing homelessness through the course of the year, said Sonja Unrau, senior research and development manager at MFA.

The point-in-time count is typically done over the course of one or two nights, with volunteers canvassing neighborhoods, alleys, parks, places like the Bosque in Albuquerque, meal service sites, and general service sites.

And it is an underestimate, MFA Community Relations Manager Justin Carmona said at a meeting of the Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight Committee on July 7.

The larger estimate captures what the report calls “hidden homelessness”: people who may be sleeping in their cars, overcrowded homes, or other unsafe housing conditions.

The data was included in the 2023 New Mexico Affordable Housing Needs Assessment presented to the committee at the MFA’s headquarters in Albuquerque.

The report is a snapshot in time of the state’s economic, demographic and housing situation for 2023, Carmona said. A summary of the report can be found here, and the entire 63-page report can be found here.

In general, the number of unhoused people in the state has declined from a peak in 2020, Carmona said.

“While this figure is down from previous years, we know that homelessness persists as a serious problem,” Unrau said.

Most renters unable to afford homes

State legislative analysts have used the point-in-time counts to estimate how much housing is needed to meet the unmet needs of New Mexicans.

In the last four years, the number of building permits has increased by an average of 31% each year, Carmona said.

However, Carmona said most renters are unable to afford to buy a median-priced home because of higher interest rates and not enough single-family homes.

Housing affordability in NM by the numbers

An estimated 22% of New Mexicans are “cost-burdened,” meaning between 30% and 50% of their income goes toward paying for housing, according to the report from the Mortgage Finance Authority.

Another 21% of New Mexicans spend more than 50% of their income on housing, making them “severely cost-burdened.”

That leaves about 57% of New Mexicans who can actually afford the average rent, depending on their county.

For homeowners, 78% of people in New Mexico can afford their mortgage payments,meaning they pay less than 30% of their income toward housing.

An estimated 12% of homeowners are cost-burdened, and about 9% of homeowners are severely cost-burdened.

The price of housing has far outpaced income growth, and median home prices in New Mexico are outpacing the U.S. as a whole, Unrau said.

The affordability of home ownership has dramatically declined over the last year, Carmona said, because of a doubling of mortgage interest rates in that period, and home prices in the state staying relatively high.

Three out of every four homes in New Mexico were built before 2000, Carmona said. Older homes, particularly those more than 30 years old, are significantly more likely to need rehabilitation to remain habitable.

In general, urban counties have more recently built homes while more rural counties have older homes, Carmona said.

Homes are being built at the fastest rate in Rio Rancho and Las Cruces, Carmona said.

MFA estimates that the number of eviction cases are higher this year compared to last year because the eviction protections during the public health emergency are over, Carmona said.

While evictions remain low, Carmona said, with more than half of renters being cost-burdened, New Mexico needs more affordable rental housing development.

MFA headquarters moving

At the end of the committee meeting, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller criticized the decision by the Mortgage Finance Authority  to move its headquarters out of downtown to another part of the city.

“We always want to have as many tenants and businesses down here as we can,” Keller said. “MFA has the right to do whatever they want to do. But I think perhaps the strategy might be a little suboptimal.”

He said he wants the mortgage authority to stay downtown, and the city government is willing to provide incentives to keep it there.

Keller suggested MFA could convert its old building into affordable housing, split the agency into two physical locations, or just stay downtown.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque) suggested that Keller’s first proposal is possible.

“It’s critical we maintain MFA services in an accessible area,” Roybal Caballero said.

The committee will meet four more times in the interim this year, said Isidoro Hernandez, executive director and CEO for the Mortgage Finance Authority.

The headquarters of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority in downtown Albuquerque, which the agency is selling to move into a different part of the city. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.