On May 5 Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich—a Trump appointee—struck down the federal eviction moratorium put into place by the Trump Administration, going against the Biden Administration’s efforts to extend the Trump-mandated moratorium until June 30. The Justice Department immediately appealed this decision, and on May 15 Judge Friedrich chose to allow the national eviction moratorium to remain in place while the Justice Department makes their appeal to the earlier decision. The decision at the federal level has left many vulnerable renters unsure of what is to come in the next few months.
The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) most recent data from household surveys shows that in March of 2021, 27 percent of households in New Mexico making $35,000-$50,000 were behind in rent payments and were likely to be evicted. 36 percent of New Mexicans making less than $35,000 were likely to be evicted due to late rent payments. The agency notes there is a 10 percent margin of error in their data reporting.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is one advocacy organization using NCSHA data. They say they have also received reports that some landlords are refusing to accept government assistance designed to protect tenants from eviction. “Often an eviction on your record means that you can’t get a new place,” said Maria Griego, the organization’s director of economic equity.
As New Mexico and the rest of the country attempt to transition to normalcy by the end of June, many New Mexicans are in a state of uncertainty of whether they’ll have basic utilities or even housing in the next few months. According to a study in 2020 by the New Mexico Finance Authority, over 43 percent of New Mexico renters are cost-burdened, including 22 percent that are extremely cost-burdened—paying over a third of income on rent. “Renters who are cost burdened are likely to have a harder time paying rent and will likely be more vulnerable and at risk of eviction once the moratoria are lifted,” Griego said.
The New Mexico Public Regulations Commission recently voted to lift the moratorium on disconnections on electric, gas and rural electric co-ops in August. New Mexico Gas Company announced that they have $1.2 million in financial assistance that customers can access on their website. PNM revealed more than 40,000 customers are behind in electric bills and are at risk of having their services shut off. The utility company is encouraging their customers to take advantage of available financial resources to either help prepare for the end of the moratorium or to prevent a discontinuation of services.
Some Good News
To address the wave of potential evictions if the lift on the eviction moratorium is held in place, the Biden Administration will now issue relief payments directly to the tenant if landlords choose not to participate in the program.
The $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus issued by the Biden administration in February included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance with a further $20 billion added in March. But for many the aid is being rolled out at a frustratingly slow pace. The New York Times reported that the greatest obstacle in distributing the aid is finding tenants most in need, overcoming access barriers such as the internet and computers and navigating the vast network of local and state governments who are tasked with its distribution.
For the most vulnerable New Mexicans, federal and state funds have been made available and extended. The City of Albuquerque announced in April it had received a federal grant for $21.6 million for emergency rental assistance for residents. New Mexicans struggling to pay rent or at risk of eviction can also find resources at RentHelpNM.org. The moratorium is still scheduled to end on June 30, unless the Biden administration chooses to extend it.