Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Council votes to outlaw rental voucher discrimination

The Albuquerque Government Center building. (Robert Browman/Journal file)

Copyright © 2022

Albuquerque landlords will not be able to turn away prospective tenants simply because they are using a Section 8 or other rental assistance vouchers under legislation that narrowly passed the City Council on Monday night.

The Brook Bassan/Pat Davis proposal adds new language to the Albuquerque Human Rights Ordinance that would specifically prohibit discrimination against tenants based on their legal source of income, including vouchers. Property owners currently are allowed to screen out applicants based on their voucher use.

The legislation also would make it illegal for landlords to impose any additional requirements – like higher security deposits – on voucher users that it does not apply to those not paying with vouchers.

It passed 5-4 after about an hour of public comment and council debate. Supporters contend that it would level the playing field for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents – including low-income seniors and people with disabilities – who have vouchers but struggled to find places that accept them. Several landlords, however, argued that the city would be forcing property owners into a voucher system, potentially creating new burdens and financial hardships.

Bassan acknowledged that the ordinance update would never please everyone but said she co-sponsored it to ensure the property-ownership voice was represented and believes it considers all perspectives.

“I realize … there is no full agreement that is going to happen with both sides of this, so I think we’ve done what we can for now to come to a middle ground where it’s been mitigated a little bit and it has been a little bit more palatable, I hope,” Bassan said. “I do think this is something that is not going to end up being scary and terrible for the landlords.”

Isaac Benton, Tammy Fiebelkorn and Klarissa Peña joined the sponsors to pass the bill after Dan Lewis’ unsuccessful bid to delay a vote.

Lewis said the sponsors should take another 90 days to find support from property owners, saying “it’s clear there is no buy-in” from that constituency now.

Trudy Jones too said she was troubled by the number of landlords who objected, adding that the city may be alienating them.

“I think there is some major concern from a large number of the people who provide housing for the same kind of people who need this kind of housing,” Jones said. “If we set ourselves up so we’re causing that group to no longer be willing to participate in housing people the most in need of a place to stay, I think we’re being a little short-sighted.”

Jones, Lewis, Renee Grout and Louie Sanchez ultimately voted against the legislation.

Bassan and Davis said they’d made changes to address some landlord concerns since introducing their bill in March, including one to ensure a landlord is not forced to leave a unit open to accommodate a voucher-holder applicant if the agency providing the voucher takes more than five business days to complete its requisite “housing quality standards” inspection of the premises. They appropriated $100,000 to support agencies in completing those inspections.

The bill also includes $150,000 to develop a “landlord incentive” program to encourage more property owners to accept vouchers, and $50,000 for educational materials and technical assistance to tenants and landlords working with vouchers.

“The city is willing to step up and do that work, and I think that’s a huge part of this, saying the city is not shifting the burden to the private sector; we’re trying to figure out how we can help the private sector do their job better,” Davis said.

He noted that landlords would retain their rights to evict voucher tenants for the same reasons they could evict any other tenant.

“At the end of the day, this just says you treat someone who walks in with a voucher just like they walked in with a check,” he said.

The legislation now goes to Mayor Tim Keller’s desk. A spokeswoman said he’ll have to review the final language but that his administration has “strongly supported this measure to lower barriers to housing.”

Also Monday: The Council unanimously approved Bassan/Benton/Davis legislation to borrow $100 million via bonds to fund various facilities and infrastructure projects around the city.

Affordable housing will get the biggest share of the money: $20 million. The package also includes $15 million for the Paseo del Norte/Unser roadway expansion and $15 million for the North Domingo Baca swimming pool in the Northeast Heights. The financial infusion should be enough to fully fund both projects based on current estimates, councilors have said.

Among the other 13 projects getting money are a West Side public safety center ($15 million), the planned Rail Trail ($10 million), the ongoing Los Altos Park renovation ($5.5 million) and Shooting Range Park upgrades ($1.5 million).

It will not raise taxes because the city is essentially replacing some bonds it paid off last year.

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