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Proposal would help low-income families searching for homes

With rent prices on the rise throughout the Albuquerque metro area in recent years, a bill introduced in Congress last week could help low-income residents find a home in a competitive market.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who sponsored the legislation, said the bill is a small step in addressing a large problem across the country that has taken root in New Mexico.

“The housing crisis has come to New Mexico,” Heinrich said in a phone interview. “Around the country right now, we have fallen behind in terms of of producing housing across the income spectrum, but especially in the middle and lower portions of the housing spectrum. As a result of that dynamic, the housing market has gotten really constrained. In New Mexico, we’re seeing rents that we’ve never seen before.”

Heinrich partnered with Sen. Barbara Lee, D-California, on the bill, which would provide public assistance for security deposits when families move into new dwellings. The funds would be available to people who already enrolled in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, sometimes called Section 8 vouchers.

He said about 12,000 New Mexico families would qualify for the assistance, which is based on a percentage of the local median income. In New Mexico, that would mean a family of four would qualify if they make less than $39,950 annually, according to the Albuquerque Housing Authority.

Albuquerque in particular has been hard-hit with rising rent costs in recent years. Housing and Urban Development found that the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased 30% from 2020 to 2023.

 What's behind Albuquerque's skyrocketing apartment rents?

Though that issue is affecting people and families of all income levels, Heinrich said his bill would help the people who are struggling the most. He said economic research found that municipalities who offer assistance for security deposits are much more successful at placing families into homes.

Section 8 voucher holders in the Albuquerque area have had access to assistance for things like security deposits and application fees through a new program run by the Albuquerque Housing Authority for about six months, said Linda Bridge, the executive director.

“We definitely see the need, and we definitely have seen the impact that it has had to make (voucher holders) competitive in this kind of market,” she said.

She said that as rents have gone up, so to have security deposits, which are often comparable to a month’s rent.

“We want to try to even the playing field. In this market, voucher holders are competing against market renters for the minimum number of units,” Bridge said. “And so we’re trying to take away any of the barriers or hurdles for landlords selecting a voucher holder over a market renter.”

Heinrich’s bill was endorsed by more than 10 local and national organizations that assist low-income families, including the Albuquerque Housing Authority.

The bill doesn’t set aside a certain amount of money that would go to programs. When people move out of apartments any security deposit refund would go back to HUD.

“It doesn’t actually end up being a lot of money because it’s effectively a revolving fund,” he said.