The rental housing market in Albuquerque is on fire. Actually, filled with people pushed by the pandemic out of homeownership, the national rental market has seen rents jump by 14 percent since March 2020. In Albuquerque the rent increase over the COVID year and a half has been 28 percent. That’s driven the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment to $1235 a month.
Keep that number — like all of this, the product of the excellent reporting of our guest today Patrick Lohmann for Source New Mexico — in mind because it’s the key that explains a mystery.
Since 1937, the federal government has had a Section 8 program authorized to pay rent to private landlords for housing for low-income households. By all the conventional measurements, the state of New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque have a disproportionate number of those households in poverty.
The state is usually near the bottom of every measurement of poverty in America and a recent survey ranked Albuquerque the tenth poorest city in the country. Even before the pandemic, more than 18 percent of the city’s population lived below the poverty line.
But whereas 1.9 percent of households in America are getting Section 8 vouchers to pay for living space, in poor old New Mexico, it’s just 1.5 percent.
Why are the old people, children and people with disabilities who make up 68 percent of Section 8 renters so underserved in New Mexico? Two reasons: Because no landlord is forced to take Section 8 money and because, in NM, the present limit on Section 8 vouchers is $940 a month.
Going back to the scoreboard: The Albuquerque housing market says $1235 a month, Section 8 says $940, and more and more landlords are saying, no thanks.
The failure of the Section 8 program to shelter hundreds of New Mexico’s old people, people with disabilities and families with children is repeated in the failure to protect an overlapping distressed population, people who’ve been evicted.
Even after the Supreme Court nullified the federal moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, state law in New Mexico still forbade landlords from forcing people out of their homes. But, according to a recent investigation by Ike Swetlitz for Searchlight New Mexico, landlords in New Mexico have filed more than 11,000 eviction notices since the start of the pandemic.
When it comes to assuring people of shelter during the storm of the Coronavirus pandemic, the laws and law enforcement agencies of the state of New Mexico and city of Albuquerque have been failing to protect and serve their most vulnerable citizens.
Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he’s worked at UNM’s Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he’s won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He’s thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.