Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Starting this week, New Mexico renters and homeowners who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic will have a new option for rent or mortgage relief.
The New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority will begin taking applications for its COVID-19 Housing Cost Assistance Program on Monday, which will provide rental and mortgage assistance of up to $1,500 per month over the next three months. Leann Kemp, director of communications and marketing for MFA, said the goal of the program is to help New Mexicans who are struggling to cover housing costs because of the pandemic through the end of the year.
“This is really not the time to be worrying about a roof over your head,” Kemp said.
The pandemic and associated business shutdowns have left millions of Americans unable to make their housing payments. Early in the pandemic, Kemp said, federal assistance, including the weekly $600 boost to unemployment benefits, kept many households secure. As those programs have ended without being replaced, Kemp said more and more households are struggling with rent and mortgage payments.
Although the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a pair of temporary rulings in March prohibiting renters from being evicted if they can’t pay, Kemp said, that doesn’t stop unpaid bills from piling up.
“As (the pandemic) drags on, it really is reaching more of a critical point,” she said.
A September study from the National Council of State Housing Agencies estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 New Mexico households are unable to pay rent and are at risk of eviction.
“When you have a state that fights poverty like we do on a regular basis, a catastrophe like this is going to certainly impact us greatly,” Kemp said.
Kemp said the MFA received $12.3 million from the state from the federal CARES Act to fund its cost assistance program. To qualify for the program, applicants must make 80% or less of area median income after adjusting for family size, and demonstrate that the pandemic has caused them to lose their jobs or lose wages in some capacity. People living on tribal land automatically meet the income requirement.
Kemp said applicants must show proof of past-due housing payments, and must have been current on payments as of Feb. 28. Once an applicant is approved, Kemp said, the money goes directly to the landlords or housing agents owed money.
“We’re making sure that the money gets to the right people, and that it’s not misspent,” she said.
Money will be distributed according to need and the order in which the applications are received, though Kemp said she’s hopeful that the program will have enough money to fund all qualified applicants. More information about the program is available at www.housingnm.org.