NM landlords refusing rent assistance during hot housing, rental markets

By: - September 16, 2021 6:13 am

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Some New Mexico landlords are refusing to accept rental assistance that would keep their tenants housed, opting instead to sell their properties or raise rent on a new tenant, an expert testified today before a legislative committee.

Maria Griego, a director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said the landlords’ refusals are compounding the state’s difficulty in spending $170 million in federal rental assistance. 

“Unfortunately, we’ve heard that over and over and over again,” she told a panel of lawmakers Thursday, “housing prices going far above what we would have seen a couple years ago, landlords of smaller properties are much more incentivized to sell rather than take the rental assistance.”

And landlords of larger properties, she said, are also refusing to accept rental assistance because they know they can just raise rent on a new tenant. The Supreme Court’s stay on evictions prompted by the pandemic applies only in cases when a tenant would be evicted for lack of payment, not for other reasons, like a lease expiring. 

“Rental assistance has not been the saving grace that we hoped it would be,” said Griego, who runs the center’s Economic Equity Team. “It’s certainly a huge help.

Griego did not specify the number of landlords she’s heard of who are refusing the rental assistance. 

The hot housing and rental markets are making the rental assistance a tougher sell, Griego said. Rent prices have increased 17% over last year, according to KOB-TV. Housing prices have increased about 12%, according to the Financial Times

A federal deadline is looming to spend the money: 65% of the money must be spent by Sept. 30. If it’s not, the federal government could take the money back. 

As of Sept. 1, the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration had obligated about 46% of the money, Secretary Debbie Romero told a panel of lawmakers. That figure includes money distributed under the program for rent, utilities, outreach and other emergency programs, she said.

The rental assistance funds have been slow out the door, frustrating lawmakers and others. The rental application process has confused some tenants and advocates, making it harder than it should be to qualify for the assistance, advocates told Source New Mexico. 

The issue of landlords refusing to accept rental assistance has popped up in some other cities and states around the country. In some cases, landlords are required not to evict their tenants for a year in exchange for rental assistance. In others, they’re required to provide sensitive financial information to the government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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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.