Things got a little rowdy in the Albuquerque City Council chambers Tuesday night as a debate was held to send a memorial to the state legislature to repeal a law that forbids municipalities from having rent control. The Councilors listened, a LOT of people stated their positions, then the memorial went down on a vote of 2-7. The meeting ended with claps and boos, something that is quite out of the ordinary for the council meetings.
One Side, Then The Other
For the last handful of months, dozens of representatives from the People’s Housing Project have been showing up in force to ask the Council to send a message to the state legislature to take a look at the decades old law that prohibits any municipality in the state from instituting rent control. The legislature implemented the ban on rent control in 1991. New Mexico is one of about 37 states that have a ban on rent control.
Both sides agree in theory that the Albuquerque metropolitan area is experiencing a shortage of not only affordable housing but middle-class housing as well. Some reports say there is a need for more than 13,000 housing units, and that does not necessarily include affordable single family homes for purchase.
Research from the People’s Housing Project shows that rents in the Albuquerque metropolitan area have risen about 40% since March 2020. Meeting after meeting, passionate residents have shown up to plead their real-life cases about the impacts of rising rents on the elderly, children, disabled, minimum wage workers, students and those on fixed incomes who are facing sharp increases.
Opposition to the memorial said that it would have devastating effects on the housing market by scaring off developers and builders of new units, which in a housing crisis are most desperately needed. Some said it would negatively impact people who have rental properties because, without rent increases when needed, they can not keep up with the cost of repairs, property taxes, etc. Big guns came out for this side including developers and business groups who spoke of the economic impacts of rent control and the larger problems it would create.
Only Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who sponsored the memorial, and Council President Isaac Benton supported the idea. After a couple of hours of public comment, there was little discussion at the table. Fiebelkorn closed by making a heartfelt statement that no matter how the vote goes, the People’s Housing Project wins, because they have brought the need for more affordable housing and rent stabilization to the forefront. Truth said.
Councilor Dan Lewis echoed what those speaking in opposition said, that it would scare off developers wanting to build more housing in Albuquerque and in the end would do more harm than good. He said it was a policy statement by the city and asked representatives from the Mayor’s office if this was something that they supported. They said that the administration is supportive of affordable housing and that rent control is one way to achieve it.
Memorial Shot Down
This was only a memorial asking the state legislature to take a look at a 30-plus year old law to see if it’s time for an update. Maybe it can be tweaked to give more flexibility so that local governments can respond to what is happening to their residents. Not forever, but for short terms when things get off balance, like right now in the lingering effects of the pandemic. And it might have gone a long way to help those who are on the edges of being squeezed out into the streets, to feel like their voices are being heard as we all face these times of uncertainty.
Councilor Louie Sanchez tucked a memorial in the Letter of Introduction that will be debated at the Nov. 7 meeting. This asks the legislature to reinstate qualified immunity for police officers and other government actors, according to the memorial. In 2021, state lawmakers prohibited the use of qualified immunity for police and other government actors, opening them up to individual liability when being sued for civil rights violations. In a nutshell, current law says that if someone is shot by a police officer, they can sue the department and the cop personally for their actions. Reinstating qualified immunity says someone can sue the department for the shooting, but not the cop personally. Sanchez’s memorial claims this is one reason why people don’t want to be police officers anymore.
Maybe, maybe not. Seems like there are a number of issues to consider when deciding to become a police officer other than being sued for civil rights violations. Some say removing qualified immunity makes for better-trained officers. Stay tuned.
The next meeting of the Albuquerque City Council is set for 5pm Monday Nov. 7. For more information, agendas and meeting links, go to cabq.gov.