March 22, 2022

End of moratorium on evictions could lead to crisis, say family advocates

Joe Gratz


With the New Mexico Supreme Court’s pandemic-era inspired moratorium on evictions about to end, the court announced it will phase-in a statewide program to help tenants access money starting in April. But family advocates have said that approximately 80,000 renter households are at risk in the state for eviction.

Divya Shiv, a research and policy analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children, told NM Political Report that the 43 percent of residents in the state reporting a high likelihood of eviction or foreclosure because they are not current on their rent or mortgage is higher than the national average, which is 35 percent.

With the moratorium ending on evictions for tenants with unpaid rent, this could lead to a crisis of unhoused families in New Mexico, Shiv said.

“Evictions are really harmful and it’s incredibly destabilizing for families and children,” she said.

An eviction has long lasting legacies for families who experience it, she said.

“It’s close to impossible to find stable housing in the future if a person has that on their record. Facing homelessness is a really destabilizing situation to be in,” she said.

Renters facing eviction need more time to access legal and financial resources and the problem goes beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“The landlord-tenant laws haven’t been changed since the 1970s [in New Mexico],” she said. “Tenants need more protections when it comes to things like evictions.

Shiv said part of the problem is that a tenant with unpaid rent has only three days after notification to access resources. Often, a family doesn’t seek out resources and help until they receive an eviction notice, which means they often lack enough time to pull together the aid they need.

It’s also an equity issue because the crisis could likely impact women and children of color disproportionately, Shiv said.

“Black and Hispanic renters are more at risk compared to white renters and that’s especially the case for women of color,” she said.

Shiv said there are “real historical reasons for that,” and that women of color tend to have low incomes.

“There are systems and structures in place that don’t benefit them,” she said.

The Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program provided by the state is designed to help tenants who are behind on rent and utilities due to COVID-19 access money available through the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Tenants can also access money to help with temporary housing at a motel or hotel and to help with the initial costs of moving into new permanent housing, according to a news release.

“I encourage renters, landlords and property managers to participate in the Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program. People facing the possible loss of housing will receive help in submitting applications for emergency rental assistance and landlords have an opportunity to be fairly compensated,” New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil said through the release.

But Shiv said families and communities “thrive best when everyone has an affordable place to live.”

According to the 2020 New Mexico Housing Needs Assessment, renters’ cost burden has doubled nationally since the 1960s, when incomes began to fall behind increases in housing costs. Cost burden is the measure of housing affordability. Renters or homeowners who are cost burdened pay more than 30 percent of their income in housing costs.

Extremely cost burdened households pay more than 50 percent of their income to stay housed.

At the national level, the availability of low-cost housing has declined since the 1990s, according to the assessment. In New Mexico, the number of rental units costing $600 a month decreased by 29,213 units between 1990 and 2017.

Advocates and some legislators have said since the early part of the pandemic that New Mexico faces a crisis in evictions when the state supreme court lifts its moratorium.

Related: Legislators push to get bill heard on rent relief, thousands will be affected

Shiv said policies such as SB 134, which allocated $25 million to the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund in recurring funding, is an investment in affordable housing. State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, sponsored SB 134.

Shiv said policymakers could have done more if the legislature had also passed HB 65

sponsored by Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe. That bill would have addressed the “looming eviction crisis” to give tenants more time to stay housed, Shiv said. She said that with three days to respond to an eviction notice, New Mexico has “one of the shortest timelines in the country.”

Shiv said that prior to the pandemic, 16 families were evicted each day in New Mexico. With 80,000 households in the state at risk, once the eviction moratorium ends, the numbers will go back to pre-pandemic rates or “even higher.”

Shiv said that nationally, families with children were 9 percentage points more likely to experience eviction during the pandemic. Chronic residential mobility affects mental health and intellectual attainment, she said.

Shiv called eviction “very traumatizing” for children.

The court released a schedule of phasing in the eviction program and lifting the moratorium on evictions for unpaid rent:

·  Starting April 1 in the Second (Bernalillo County), Fifth (Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties), Tenth (DeBaca, Harding and Quay counties) and Twelfth (Lincoln and Otero counties) Judicial Districts.

·   Effective May 1 in the Third (Doña Ana County), Sixth (Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties) and Seventh (Catron, Sierra, Socorro and Torrance counties) Judicial Districts.

·    Starting June 1in the First (Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties), Fourth (Mora, Guadalupe and San Miguel counties), and Eighth (Colfax, Taos and Union counties) Judicial Districts.

·     Effective July 1 in the Eleventh (McKinley and San Juan counties) and Thirteen (Cibola, Sandoval and Valencia counties) Judicial Districts.