Nicole Martinez (center, left), executive director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, presented to the Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight Committee at the MFA headquarters in Albuquerque on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
The leader of a housing services nonprofit says in order to deal with growing numbers of New Mexicans experiencing homelessness, state lawmakers need to loosen requirements around how state funding can be spent.
Nicole Martinez is executive director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, a nonprofit organization with a campus including a day shelter, showers, laundry, housing application assistance, and an overnight encampment sanctioned by the city of Las Cruces.
The organization is an effective model for the rest of New Mexico for how to actually provide housing to people, said Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque).
In two separate meetings with lawmakers this summer, Martinez asked to set aside public funding for housing services that are not tied to one person, but rather to an entire housing program.
She brought up the issue to the Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight Committee in Albuquerque on July 7, and to the Economic And Rural Development And Policy Committee in Las Cruces on Aug. 30.
The Community of Hope receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, eviction prevention and to operate two apartment complexes.
To get federal housing funding, people have to meet certain criteria, Martinez said, like proving that they have been living on the streets long enough to be prioritized.
Someone has to show they have been homeless for a year, or four times in the last three years that add up to a year, or have a permanent disability, she testified last week.
These criteria “make it really difficult to get people in who we know are eligible,” Martinez said.
Unhoused people who are trying to find housing are often met with long wait times, or are blocked from getting housing because they lack employment or income, they use drugs or alcohol, or they have a criminal record, according to a HUD policy brief.
Martinez said both federal HUD funding and state MFA funding have this problem, and they do not provide “the flexibility to meet the needs in our community, for people out there who might not fall under those categories or who may not be currently enrolled in one of your programs.”
“It’s only for certain people,” Martinez said. “Right now, our hands are a little tied. Some of the systems have serious flaws.”
More flexible funding could allow providers to “have a knee-jerk reaction, and head out in the streets when we needed to — when somebody needed us — and not only focus on the grants that were given to us,” Martinez said.
Change could be made if organizations had discretion to provide case management services to the growing number of people experiencing homelessness who are not covered by existing HUD grants, Martinez said.
Martinez said the state should be funding flexible services, which would benefit many organizations trying to help people experiencing homelessness, not just the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope.
Tying funding for supportive services to an entire housing development, rather than the individual people living there, “would make many of our communities much more open to partnering with developers for affordable housing,” Martinez said.
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