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Report: City has large affordable housing gap as availability drops

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

While the number of “extremely low-income” renters in Albuquerque is rising, the number of housing units in their price range has fallen, according to a new city-commissioned report.

About a quarter of all renters in Albuquerque are considered “extremely low income,” with an annual income of $24,300 or less, according to new research from the Urban Institute.

That number climbed 9% between the two periods the report examined, while the local rental stock considered affordable to the poorest households actually declined by 9% in the same span.

All told, the nonprofit Urban Institute says the city has 15,500 fewer affordable housing units than are needed.

“Albuquerque is at a critical moment in its efforts to provide affordable housing to reduce homelessness,” according to the report, which also covered the growing number of people in Albuquerque who are homeless.

The authors, who completed the report last month, also warned the situation may worsen due to COVID-19.

“Although we cannot yet know the effect that the health and economic crisis will have on Albuquerque and households with extremely low incomes or experiencing homelessness, we expect the housing needs we have described will be exacerbated,” the report says.

In releasing the report Wednesday, city government officials called it “sobering” and a “call to action.”

“We can do better,” Albuquerque Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce said in a media briefing livestreamed from City Hall on Wednesday.

Currently, the city’s Workforce Housing Trust Fund has $4.5 million in uncommitted funds available and another $2.5 million in federal money. Officials say they also hope to get $2.5 million in affordable housing money from the state that the New Mexico Legislature approved earlier this year, but which could be in jeopardy due to the state’s budget crisis.

The city currently has three affordable housing projects under development, though they are far from bridging the gap that exists. Their combined impact is 239 affordable units, according to information provided by Lisa Huval, the city’s deputy director for Housing and Homelessness.

The authors of the new report make a series of suggestions for how to tackle the disparity between supply and demand. They include “inclusionary zoning,” which could mean requiring private developers to incorporate some affordable units into their market-rate projects; encouraging landlords to accept tenants they might not otherwise due to eviction or criminal history by creating a “mitigation” fund to help them recoup lost rent or damages if they arise; and even legislation to prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants who use vouchers.

Adding new housing vouchers is among the primary tools identified for transitioning people out of homelessness. Albuquerque spent an additional $2 million this fiscal year on vouchers and the city program currently aids about 900 households, compared to 727 in 2019.

Huval said helping someone who is homeless achieve stability through rental assistance is often less expensive than having them cycle through publicly funded shelters, emergency rooms and, occasionally, jails.

“We know that if we provide some funding to help folks with low income pay the rent, that that is often enough to basically help people experiencing homelessness get into housing and keep that housing,” she said.

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