New Mexico landlords tried to evict nearly 200 households with pending rent assistance applications

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In early 2021, medical clinics in Albuquerque were so overwhelmed by the pandemic that Deidra Alldredge was unable to make a doctor’s appointment to renew an insulin prescription. Her diabetes got worse. She felt dizzy and nauseous, and could hardly see or think correctly. Unable to report for her job as a customer service agent by phone for a bank, the 54-year-old was fired in February.

Without income, she fell behind on the rent. When April 1 rolled around, she didn’t have the $ 695 for her one-bedroom apartment in northeast Albuquerque. A few days later, she found a notice stuck to her door: if she didn’t pay her rent within three days, her landlord would evict her.

“My life was getting out of hand and I didn’t know how to stop it,” Alldredge said.

This story originally appeared in Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.

She asked for help, researched online and calling friends and devotees, and decided to apply for the state’s COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program. It was part of a $ 25 billion national initiative, including $ 200 million allocated to New Mexico, to help tenants pay their rent and prevent them from being evicted. Applications opened on April 5 and Alldredge submitted theirs the next day.

But less than two weeks after his request, his owner still tried to evict him.

According to a Searchlight New Mexico analysis of rental assistance data and court records, landlords sought to evict at least 191 tenants while they were in the process of seeking assistance between April and November of this year.

In each case, the filing of the eviction request took place after the tenant applied for rental assistance but before the funds were released. And in all of these cases, court records show that the only reason the landlord filed for the eviction was non-payment of rent. The data shows that the state ultimately sent the money to the owner or tenant.

“It’s so frustrating to think how easily this was preventable,” said Serge Martinez, a University of New Mexico law professor specializing in housing. “In a case where [someone] asked for money, it’s on its way, we know the state has it, and we’re just waiting for a decision – and then file a complaint. … I just swore in frustration when I thought about it.

Searchlight spoke to more than a dozen tenants whose landlords attempted to evict them while their applications for rent assistance were on hold. Some tenants were grateful for the financial assistance, even late, as it resolved the unpaid debt. Others were frustrated that it had taken so long to get the funds.

Alldredge’s owner, Casa del Verde Apartments, found it easy enough to get her out of her apartment. At first, they tried to evict him for non-payment. In the end, they simply chose not to renew her lease – which will expire in late May, court records show.

The apartment manager, who filed the complaint for the owner, declined to comment and referred Searchlight to The Neiders Company, a real estate investment firm that lists Casa del Verde as a property on its website. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Alldredge said she moved on June 7. On June 8, the state sent the owner $ 2,030, according to records.

For over a month, she bounced back and forth between extended stay hotels until she found a place to live in the heart of the Albuquerque International District. She said she was surrounded by crime and drugs.

“I can’t rent anything else,” she said. “The damage he caused me is still ongoing. This record will be there forever.

Hiccups happen

Most of the 191 tenants identified by Searchlight have never, like Alldredge, been evicted by court order; Instead, 131 of the cases were dismissed, with judgments against the tenant rendered in 53. In most of these cases, tenants were not forcibly evicted, even though they received a court order. to move. State and federal protections enacted during the pandemic limit the ability of courts and law enforcement to physically evict tenants for non-payment of rent.

Yet the mere presence of an eviction record can make it difficult for tenants to find housing in the future, according to housing advocates and lawyers – and there is currently no way to erase or seal the eviction cases in New Mexico.

Most tenants have performed well with the state rent assistance program, which is overseen by the Ministry of Finance and Administration. According to Donnie Quintana, the program director, this has enabled more than 20,500 households to repay their rent and avoid eviction.

“While DFA does not have the authority to stop deportations in New Mexico, we continue to work with deportation legal experts to help as many New Mexicans as possible with deportations,” Quintana said by e -mail.

DFA’s program covers all of New Mexico, with the exception of Dona Ana County and areas of Bernalillo County outside of Albuquerque, both of which have their own rental assistance programs. Searchlight’s analysis only includes DFA data.

Nationally, there is little research comparing rental assistance allowances to eviction data, experts told Searchlight. Data on evictions are difficult to obtain, organize and analyze. COVID-19 rental aid money is distributed to more than 400 different state, tribal, territorial and local programs, without centralized tracking of individual rewards.

“Establish this link between the owners who really receive [rental assistance] and what happens in terms of evictions in those buildings afterwards – it hasn’t been done yet, ”said Peter Hepburn, a researcher at the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, who studies evictions at nationwide since 2018.

Between April 1 and October 31, New Mexico issued about 12,200 rent assistance payments in addition to rewards for utilities and other expenses, according to the data. By the end of November, he had distributed nearly $ 72 million. Bernalillo and Dona Ana counties sent an additional $ 7.6 million.

Hepburn said the performance positively reflects the effectiveness of the New Mexico program. “If a very small fraction of homeowners are simultaneously pursuing eviction cases, maybe that is a good sign,” he said.

Maria Griego, director of the economic equity team at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, agreed. “They are working hard to get this money out, and it is coming out,” she said. “But we need more safeguards in place to ensure that not only are rent paid, but tenants are protected and that those hiccups don’t result in an eviction on their record that shouldn’t be there.”

This setback happened to Julissa Bustillos, 31, who lives with her 10-year-old son in apartments in Marbella, northwest Albuquerque. Bustillos works as an office assistant and pre-K program supervisor at a daycare center, and her workplace is frequently closed due to COVID-19 exposures. This cut her monthly income by almost half, she said.

When Bustillos applied for rental assistance in mid-July, she said she informed her landlord. On August 23, the owner went to court to try to evict him.

The funds – just over $ 3,500 – were sent seven days later, on August 30, and the case was dismissed.

“I don’t have a criminal history or anything. I was just nervous about the short and stressed out, ”she said. “I did all I could, and he dropped off anyway.”

An office assistant who answered the phone in Marbella referred Searchlight to a regional manager who did not answer.

Bustillos was lucky. Even when landlords receive past due rent, they don’t have to abandon a case, lawyers told Searchlight.

“The landlord has no obligation to stop the eviction even if you pay the rent,” Martinez said.

Two New Mexico state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation in the 2022 session that would change that dynamic. According to the proposal, if the tenant pays their rent within three weeks of the judge’s order, the case would be closed. A bill including this provision was introduced during the last ordinary legislative session. He died in commission.

Are you a tenant and having trouble paying your rent?

You can apply for rental assistance here. People who have previously applied without success can apply again, advocates say.

During the pandemic, many people lost secure housing. If you are homeless, call or text these numbers for help. They will put you in touch with a hotline managed by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness:

In Albuquerque:

Call 505-768-HELP

In the rest of the state:

Call 505-772-0547

Searchlight New Mexico is a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to investigative reporting in New Mexico.


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