Eviction is becoming a crisis of epic proportions. Even before the pandemic, the Bernalillo County eviction rate was 4.5%, more than twice the national average. In Albuquerque, where 116,000 households are renters, a two-bedroom apartment goes for $877 a month, requiring 1.9 full-time jobs at minimum wage for a family to be able to pay rent and still have enough to live on, leaving no buffer for emergencies.
Tens of thousands of Burqueños have been put out of work because of COVID-19, and many more are unable to pay their rent in full. Moreover, evictions are having a disproportionate impact on Latinx, Native American and African American households. A recent report found that statewide, one in five Hispanic families have had COVID-19-related income loss and one in three are struggling to pay rent. Eviction has become a clear public health threat with health equity implications.
New Mexico is already the nation’s second-poorest state, and eviction precipitates a cascade into ever-deeper poverty. Once a family is evicted, finding another place to live is an overwhelming challenge that too often ends in homelessness. We know that stable housing is a key component of good health. The trauma of losing the place you call home, and even the threat of eviction, can cause lasting emotional, behavioral and physical health problems. This eviction epidemic will have dramatic, damaging and inequitable repercussions for generations into the future. Preventing eviction whenever possible is essential.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has extended the moratorium on eviction by allowing tenants to testify in court that they are unable to pay. Nevertheless, evictions are still happening every day for people lacking resources to appeal in court.
We need continued collaboration to prevent an eviction crisis during this unprecedented time. The devastation of COVID-19 is an opportunity for enacting strategic and concrete changes. Local entities are working together to initiate a response. The city of Albuquerque is increasing rental assistance to prevent evictions. The Metropolitan Court, coordinating with the city and the Access to Justice Commission, created a program to help tenants and landlords develop mutually agreed upon payment plans to avoid eviction. Together, Bernalillo County and APS are supporting homeless families with motel vouchers and case management. These initiatives are a great start and additional action is attainable with these recommendations:
• Increase wraparound support for families experiencing toxic stress.
• Create a coherent statewide eviction prevention plan to protect landlords from the financial burden imposed by the rent moratorium and the inability of tenants to pay.
• Create guidelines to prepare for the moratorium’s end, to protect both tenants and landlords, and prevent courts from being overwhelmed.
• Conduct outreach to tenants and landlords on new eviction rules and resources, and expand options for mediation and remedies.
• Expand the new and successful Metro Court Landlord-Tenant Settlement Program.
• Keep working together to get through this challenging time.