May 24, 2023

Legislative report: Homelessness on the rise in New Mexico

Preliminary estimates for 2023 show a “significant uptick” of about 48 percent in homelessness in New Mexico, suggesting an increased need for affordable housing around the state, according to a report.

The interim Legislative Finance Committee met on Tuesday and heard housing experts Kathleen Gygi, program evaluator for the Legislative Finance Committee, Amy Whitfield, housing and homeless advisor for the Office of the Governor and Isidoro “Izzy” Hernandez, executive director and chief executive officer of New Mexico Mortgage Finance Committee, on a presentation about homelessness and affordable housing issues. The presenters provided a report for the committee that showed an overview of affordable housing and homelessness in the state.

One problem Gygi highlighted is that incomes have not kept up with the cost of rent. Since 2017, rents and home values have grown by 70 percent while income in the state has grown by just 15 percent, Gygi said.

Another problem is a lack of bed space for homeless individuals. Gygi said about 900 more beds are needed to address the current unhoused population.

According to the report, about 1,600 New Mexicans are currently unsheltered. Another 2,242 individuals are residing in emergency shelters or transitional housing while 6,297 individuals are housed with some form of support.

There are 105,557 individuals who rent but are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their gross income in rent and, therefore, are unstably housed.

One of the report’s recommendations was that the state could benefit from 859 permanent supportive housing units at a cost of $11.4 million annually. But, the report noted there is a shortage of existing supportive housing providers to take on expanded work.

The Mortgage Finance Authority dedicated $2 million of funding from the federal CARES Act to support the acquisition of a hotel to increase supportive housing, according to the report.

Gygi talked about the recent increase in both recurring and nonrecurring funding from the legislature. Because of a new severance tax bond, the state’s Mortgage Finance Authority will have about $74 million to support affordable housing development in Fiscal Year 2024, the report said.

The MFA’s board recently approved to increase homeowner down-payment assistance by $5 million and dedicated over $25 million over the next five years to rehabilitate and preserve existing subsidized housing, according to the report.

State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who chairs the committee, said that he’d like to see more coordination among agencies to be better able to provide resources for individuals in need and that when dealing with these issues, there can be very different demographics of people needing very different assistance, from emergency housing and help with stabilizing to help with becoming a first-time home buyer looking for affordable housing.

“There’s not an established place that gives you one stop shop assistance. If you need utility assistance, rent assistance, to navigate [state agencies for assistance] that is the hardest thing for people to do. To navigate that system, you get one person on the phone, if you can get that person, but you can be dealing with two different issues [homelessness or affordable housing],” Muñoz said.

State Sen. Siah Corrrea Hemphill, D-Silver City, asked if out-of-state buyers who buy affordable homes and then turn them into short-term vacation rentals are part of the problem.

Gygi said it is contributing to the housing shortage. Hernandez said taking housing units off the market to turn into short-term rentals could impact affordability and “that may contribute to some homelessness.”

State Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, asked about landlords who won’t offer housing to individuals who rely on Section 8 vouchers.

Whitfield said the state has a landlord support program that provides incentives to landlords who will accept Section 8 vouchers and also help landlords who can’t meet inspection requirements for Section 8 housing to make necessary upgrades. The report recommended that the state dedicate additional funds to expand the landlord support program to encourage creation of more Section 8 eligible housing.

Whitfield said the state could benefit from creating a coordinated system among service providers and that cities that have been more successful with housing their homeless population have done this.

“If we can get service providers to say yes to that state-wide, we think we can move forward,” she said.

The report identified fragmented funding and a lack of central coordination as having the potential of leading to inefficiencies in how affordable housing is built.

State Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, spoke about the differences of unhoused individuals on tribal land versus urban settings where unhoused individuals might live on the street. Lente said homelessness is a “prevalent problem” on Native land and he said he worries that they are not as easily identifiable because they are less visible.

“On reservations, we don’t allow our people to go homeless. We give them a roof,” he said.