Albuquerque saw a car rally demanding a statewide rent freeze under a nationwide day of protest on Saturday.
Protestors met at Los Altos Park and stayed in their cars, following social distancing guidelines.
The rally was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). PSL said the temporary eviction moratorium issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court on March 24 doesn’t go far enough.
“We’re obviously really appreciative that they put a moratorium on evictions and increased unemployment eligibility, but it’s not enough. The people who can’t pay their rent during the pandemic will still accumulate rent debt,” PSL organizer Ramona Malczynski said.
The moratorium requires that missed rent be paid at some point in the future, which will doubtlessly be a challenge for many in the state.
The National Multifamily Housing Council reported that 31% of renters didn’t make their payment in the first week of April.
This widespread inability to make rent comes as the Labor Department announced an additional 4.4 million unemployment claims on April 23, bringing the five-week unadjusted total to more than 24 million.
“My current income would make it nearly impossible to afford rent as much of what I earn goes to paying for full-time enrollment at UNM,” Gabriel Gaarden, one of the petition’s signers, said.
Gaarden lives rent-free with his family, but said he knows many people who have to decide whether to pay rent or buy other necessities like food and medicine.
“People should not have to make those decisions. Access to safe and healthy housing, nutritious food, and health care should be human rights, not luxurious amenities reserved only for those in positions of social dominance or prestige,” Gaarden said.
The demand for a rent freeze, as well as several other demands, are outlined in a petition started by the PSL and the Gloria La Riva and Leonard Peltier 2020 presidential campaign. As of the publication of this article, the petition has 683 supporters.
The petition is also demanding that no new or existing eviction cases be filed, processed or heard for the duration of the pandemic.
While the basic premise of the eviction moratorium passed the state Supreme Court, as well as the separate eviction moratorium passed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the reality is not so simple.
Landlords can still start the eviction process by filing with a court, but the actual order to evict won’t be carried out by law enforcement as long as the moratorium is in effect — unless a renter fails to appear at a court hearing.
At these hearings, which are being held by telephone or video, renters are required to provide proof of their inability to pay rent.
While landlords can still file evictions in many cases, landlords with property that is subsidized by the government or federally-backed mortgages cannot file for eviction or charge late fees under the CARES Act.
Thomas Prettyman, a lawyer at New Mexico Legal Aid, said the problem with this provision is that few, if any tenants, know if the property they rent falls into one of these two categories, and unless the judge hearing the case asks, the landlord is not required to disclose this information.
“We have seen cases of landlords being barred by the CARES Act from charging late fees or from filing evictions, but they charge the fees and file anyways,” Prettyman said.
Eviction orders filed during this time don’t go away, either.
After the pandemic is over and evictions are ordered by the court, renters will indeed be evicted unless the landlord lets them stay or the individual court in which the eviction was filed chooses to do something. Some courts are developing mediation programs to help renters and landlords address ways the renter could stay on the property.
The petition is also calling for eminent domain over vacant buildings, homes and hotels to house the homeless or people in insecure housing situations, including undocumented immigrants and victims of domestic violence.
Malczynski said that PSL’s demands are reasonable when the disparity between the amount of money that the federal government has loaned to banks and corporations and the money allocated for unemployment benefits is taken into account.
“People might think it seems impossible, the demands that we’re raising, but it’s actually not impossible,” Malczynski said.
The Daily Lobo put together a list of legal resources:
New Mexico Legal Aid, 505-633-6694
- Free services, ranging from advice to full representation in some cases, for eligible low-income New Mexico residents
Law Help New Mexico: 1-833-545-4357
- Legal information and articles concerning New Mexico law
Senior Citizens’ Law Office: 505-265-2300
- Free legal services to Bernalillo County residents more than 60 years of age, related to issues like income maintenance and rental problems
Legal Resources for the Elderly Program: 1-800-876-6657
- Free legal helpline for New Mexico residents 55 and older
DNA People’s Legal Services: area-specific numbers on their website
- General legal services to low-income people, primarily in San Juan County and on the Navajo and Jicarilla reservations
Southwest Women’s Law Center: 505-244-0502
- Legal advocacy that addresses gender-related poverty issues
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @bladvs.