Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Rent and mortgage payments are still due, even with a record number of New Mexicans out of work, and as many as 110,000 New Mexico renters could be at risk of eviction.
With that in mind, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions hosted an online webinar last week aimed at helping renters understand their rights.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, Mesilla Valley Community of Hope Executive Director Nicole Martinez and University of New Mexico School of Law professor Serge Martinez each spoke and answered questions from the online audience.
“What we do see across the country is that we’re in a crisis,” Morales said.
During the webinar, state Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley cited data from The Aspen Institute, an international think tank based in Washington, D.C., to show the scope of the problem. The data showed that, without a cushioning supplemental unemployment benefit that ended in July, 110,941 renters in New Mexico may be at risk of eviction before the year ends.
The now-lapsed benefit was part of a federal program that provided a $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits.
McCamley also referred to a survey of unemployed New Mexicans commissioned by the department showing that 88% of respondents were concerned about meeting rent or mortgage requirements.
“As soon as you know you’re going to miss a (rent) check, the time to start having a conversation about rental assistance … is right away,” McCamley said.
Although the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a pair of temporary rulings in March prohibiting renters from being evicted if they can’t pay, Serge Martinez said renters aren’t automatically out of the woods. He said the order applies only to renters being evicted for not paying rent who can show the courts that they are unable to pay.
While additional federal assistance may be on its way, many New Mexicans may need to have tough conversations with their landlords in the meantime.
Serge Martinez encouraged renters facing eviction to talk to their landlords about their situation, and to consider proposing a payment plan if they don’t feel they can meet the terms of the lease.
“As soon as there’s a situation where it’s clear that you’ll have trouble, the first thing you do … is just be open and transparent,” he said.
He said landlords may issue a notice to tenants who haven’t paid, informing them they have three days to pay rent before an eviction process begins in earnest. If tenants can pay within that period, he said, landlords must legally accept that payment.
Serge Martinez emphasized that the only legal way for tenants to be evicted is by a court order, and he encouraged tenants to attend the hearings to defend their rights.
“Don’t just ignore it and hope it will go away,” he said. “It will not.”
Meanwhile, Nicole Martinez highlighted regional, state and federal programs aimed at providing housing assistance. Long-running federal programs such as Community Development Block Grants and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program help address housing assistance in communities.
State funding through services such as the Rental Assistance Program is awarded to local organizations across New Mexico, which help with housing in their communities. The Governor’s Office said Thursday that it is dedicating $13.3 million in federal grant funding to emergency housing assistance for low- and moderate-income families. And the Albuquerque City Council set aside $300,000 of the city’s federal relief money for eviction prevention assistance last week.
Nicole Martinez said different programs and agencies will have different eligibility requirements but encouraged tenants to have documents like their lease agreement, eviction notice and proof of income handy.
The full hourlong webinar is available online on NMDWS’ YouTube channel, at www.youtube.com/user/NMDWS/videos.