Rising rents, stagnant wages driving increase in homelessness, analysts say

By: - May 24, 2023 4:00 am

People’s Housing Project organized a demonstration and tabled at the east entrance of the Roundhouse in January 2022. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

There are almost 4,000 homeless people in New Mexico, an uptick from last year, after nearly a decade of declines in the homeless population in the state, according to a 32-page report by the Legislative Finance Committee.

Rising housing prices coupled with a lack of affordable housing has increased the number of New Mexicans who can’t afford their rent, said Kathleen Gygi, a program evaluator with the LFC said Tuesday.

“We are lagging in performance when it comes to transitioning people into permanent housing,” Gygi said.

Since 2017, household income in New Mexico grew by 15 percent, while rents grew by 70 percent over the same period, the report states.

LFC saw firsthand how housing issues are impacting people. In January, staff tagged along with volunteers from the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness for an annual point in time count of people unsheltered, in emergency shelters, transitional housing and supportive housing.

The count determined that homelessness in New Mexico increased by an estimated 48% this year compared to last, according to the report filed by the LFC.

New Mexico lacks sufficient transitional and permanent supportive housing to help people successfully exit homelessness, the report states.

Only about one in five people staying in shelters find permanent housing two years later, Gygi said.

People in New Mexico stay in emergency shelters or transitional housing for half the time of the national average, but “governments and providers are less successful at moving people from temporary shelters to permanent housing,” the LFC report states.

LFC staff estimate New Mexico could benefit from another 859 permanent supportive housing units.

There is also a need to preserve the existing affordable housing, Gygi said.

When developers use public funds to build housing, she said, there is usually a requirement they commit to make that housing affordable for up to 30 years.

However, when those contracts end, developers can do whatever they want, including selling the units or raising the rents, she said.

“These units represent significant investments of public money and we can’t afford to lose that stock,” Gygi said.

She suggested state officials do something to preserve what affordable housing does exist in New Mexico.

She pointed to examples from other state governments that have required listing properties when they go into foreclosure or are about to be sold, or create a right of first refusal for others to buy those properties and keep them as public housing.

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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.