Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Editorial: Federal-subsidy renters deserve fair shot at ABQ housing

Will proposed legislation to prevent Albuquerque landlords from rejecting tenants simply because they use housing vouchers have the desired outcome?

There should be plenty of debate on that question, as well as the requisite follow-up. But the proposed legislation deserves serious consideration by Albuquerque city councilors simply because it’s the right thing to do. It fills a void in the law that allows landlords to discriminate on source of income. Why have a Human Rights Ordinance that prohibits housing discrimination on nearly every other basis if it has a hole big enough to drive a truck through?

And if you pay your rent with legal income, why is the source of an issue?

Rachel Biggs, chief strategy officer for the Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, says “right now, it is perfectly legal and acceptable — because we don’t have these protections in place — for a property management firm or landlord to post on a posting ‘No Section 8′ or ‘No vouchers.’ … (The voucher holders are) not even able to make a case that they would be a good tenant.”

City Councilors Pat Davis and Brook Bassan have introduced legislation to prevent landlords from doing that. Their bill would update the city’s existing Human Rights Ordinance, adding protections for those with any “lawful and verifiable” source of income, such as housing vouchers, Social Security and public assistance.

It would also stop landlords from imposing extra requirements — like higher security deposits — on those relying on such rent subsidies. It has been referred to the council’s Finance & Government Operations Committee.

Davis and Bassan are unlikely partners on opposite sides of the political center. But they’re united in seeing the updated ordinance as a way to stop more people from falling into homelessness.

Critics are already lining up to point out that as well-intentioned as the bill might be, it simply moves pieces on the chessboard without altering the outcome of the match. They say that as long as landlords have options — a typical renter versus one using subsidies — they’ll choose the former because it’s less of a hassle. Properties must meet certain standards to accept rental-assistance payments, and meeting those standards can be costly.

An updated ordinance is an opportunity to educate landlords about the upsides of vouchers (a dedicated revenue stream, for one), dissolve some unfair stereotypes and circulate stranded money into the housing ecosystem.

The Davis/Bassan bill includes $150,000 to study and develop an “incentive program” that would encourage — or make it easier for — landlords to take vouchers, perhaps by helping them bring properties into compliance or covering any gap until federal payments kick in, and another $50,000 to develop and distribute relevant educational materials to landlords and renters.

“We’ve been funding more housing vouchers (in the city), but we haven’t created more housing stock,” Davis says. “We do have landlords who are just uncomfortable taking voucher folks because of extra reporting requirements or they’re not sure how to properly vet them, and we want to close that gap. We do have available housing stock, and if we can make those more accessible, we can get people off the street faster.”

The first step in releasing this gridlock is to remove the option of simply refusing to accept vouchers. In a 2020 assessment of Albuquerque’s affordable housing needs, the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, specifically recommended such a policy. It cited research that found voucher rejection was highest in communities without laws barring source-of-income discrimination.

The Albuquerque Housing Authority has tried to remind landlords throughout the city vouchers are a reliable source of rent payments. But no pitch is as persuasive as a law requiring property managers to give vouchers a fair shot.

This is a bill that gets Albuquerque a step closer to equitable housing and attempts to chip away at our growing homelessness problem.

This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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