Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Renters in New Mexico and across the country may face a sharp uptick in evictions in the next several months, as federal protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic begin to expire.
A national moratorium on evictions for renters living in homes with federally backed mortgages that was included in the federal CARES Act expired last week, potentially putting millions of Americans at risk of losing their housing stability.
While New Mexico retains a separate set of rules prohibiting renters from being evicted if they can’t pay due to impacts from COVID-19 following a pair of state Supreme Court rulings in March tied to the outbreak of the virus, local experts are still concerned.
Patrick Ortiz, director of asset management for the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, said the organization is preparing for a spike in evictions in August, after the federal unemployment enhancement and other programs enacted at the start of the pandemic end.
“Once the moratorium expires and unemployment expires, there is going to be an increase in evictions,” Ortiz said. “We just don’t know how many.”
While the pandemic has shuttered businesses and caused record-setting unemployment, New Mexico’s rental market has been largely unaffected so far. Ortiz said MFA set aside $3 million from its housing trust fund in May to help people pay their rent during the pandemic. Two months into the program, $2.9 million remains.
“It hasn’t been used as much as we thought it would be,” Ortiz said.
One major factor has been the additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits provided by the federal government.
Reilly White, an associate professor with the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, said the infusion of cash more than doubles the amount a New Mexico unemployment claimant can receive and has helped residents stay above water on housing payments.
“That’s a huge amount of money, and that’s kept many of these families afloat,” White said.
However, there is trouble on the horizon for renters as the federal unemployment assistance is slated to expire at the end of July.
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City said a higher percentage of New Mexico residents didn’t make their recent housing payments than the rest of the country.
Nick Sly, author of the report and executive at the Denver branch of the bank, said New Mexico saw a greater share of pullback in spending during the pandemic from low- and moderate-income households.
“New Mexico has a different pattern in its spending in most of the rest of the country,” Sly said.
While no one knows precisely how many New Mexicans would lose housing, White said the burden will fall heaviest on renters who were already struggling to make ends meet.
Congress is still debating another coronavirus rescue package that would extend benefits or offer them at a lower rate.
In the meantime, renters at properties monitored by MFA may seek rental assistance through the mortgage authority’s website. The state of New Mexico has also made a mix of resources available for renters through its website at www.newmexico.gov/i-need-assistance/.