June 11, 2020

Report: Albuquerque homelessness on the rise

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

A report by the Urban Institute found that homelessness in Albuquerque has nearly quadrupled since 2013.

In 2013 there were 144 homeless in Albuquerque but in 2019 there were 567, according to the report. 

The City of Albuquerque funded and assisted with the nonprofit research organization’s report, which was released Wednesday. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller devoted his daily press conference to discussing the report and called the report’s findings “sobering.”

Albuquerque Deputy Director of Housing and Homelessness Lisa Huval said the pandemic is “likely to exacerbate housing instability.”

“More households are struggling,” she said.

Keller mentioned that the city’s West Side Shelter went from winter only availability to year-round availability for the city’s homeless shortly after he took office as one way the city has worked to help those who need it to have a bed to sleep in. The city operates the West Side Shelter, which is near the Double Eagle Airport.

But, the city needs to do more, Keller said.

The report says that the supply of affordable rental units for households with extremely low incomes is shrinking while the number of renters who have extremely low incomes is on the rise.

About a quarter of all renters in Albuquerque are considered extremely low income and almost all are “rent burdened,” meaning their rent costs are more than 30 percent of their household income. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers households whose rent is more than 50 percent of income as “severely rent burdened.” According to the Urban Institute’s report, 82 percent of Albuquerque’s rent burdened households spend more than 50 percent of their income on monthly payments to their landlords.

The city has a gap of 15,500 units of affordable housing for renters with extremely low incomes, according to the report.

Keller said the problems confronting Albuquerque on homelessness are problems that cities all around the country face but Albuquerque has an advantage because housing stock in the city is still low enough in cost that the city can often provide a housing voucher to a person experiencing homelessness that allows them to move into a house, rather than an apartment.

“That’s still a reality in Albuquerque,” he said.

Some of the recommendations the report offered on how to reverse the trend include expanding access to rental assistance, increase tenant protections and change zoning so developers would be encouraged to create some rentals that are earmarked for low income or very low income households.

The city also needs to “act aggressively” to preserve existing subsidized and affordable rental units, the report states. In addition, more than half were built before 1980 and could be lost to disrepair without “aggressive preservation efforts,” according to the report.

Carol Pierce, director of the city’s Family and Community Services Department, said the city has to close the gap on affordable rental units for the roughly 15,500 households who are extremely low income by providing development support, expanding rental assistance and rental protection.

But, the effort will need to be coordinated and include multiple partners, including Bernalillo County and the University of New Mexico, Pierce said.

A group called the Homeless Coordination Council, which is made up of county commissioners and city councilors, are expected to come up with an action plan later this summer on the issue.

Keller also said the Homeless Coordination Council will be deciding where the Gateway Center, which is expected to provide a “low barrier clearing house” to get homeless people off the streets and into stable housing, will be located.