As part of the nationwide movement to cancel rent and stop evictions, local protesters camped overnight outside of the Bernalillo Metropolitan Court from Friday, Sept. 24 to Saturday, Sept. 25 as part of the national days of protest by Cancel the Rents. The campout comes in reaction to the recent decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the national eviction moratorium that was enacted during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the campout, organized in large part by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, around 20 activists were set up with tents, food and signs for the protest. Workshops were presented on how to make aid kits for unhoused community members as well as how to fill applications for the notoriously fickle emergency renter’s assistance.
While camps were set up on the court lawn, demands were called out over a megaphone toward the heavily trafficked Lomas Blvd.
“Fight! Fight! Fight,” protesters chanted. “Housing is a human right.”
Carrying painted banners and printed signs, speakers from various groups within the Albuquerque community such as the Peace and Justice Center, the unhoused population and those who could face eviction voiced their distress over the worsening housing crisis.
“Banks got bailed out; we got sold out,” protesters called.
Their chants and rallying cries were met with both enthused honking in support as well as heckling from passersby.
The organizers echoed grievances held across the nation regarding the country’s failure to address the housing crisis in the midst of a global pandemic, according to lead organizer Chris Banks.
“This protest is part of national (days) of action, called Cancel the Rents,” Banks said. “It was called after the Supreme Court overturned the CDC’s moratorium on evictions, which puts 11 million people at risk of eviction.”
Banks said their calls for action were specifically statewide as well as national.
“Here in Albuquerque, we are raising the particular demand that Gov. (Michelle) Lujan Grisham convene a special session of the state legislature to pass an indefinite moratorium on evictions,” Banks said.
Up to this point, New Mexico’s Supreme Court has maintained its eviction moratorium without setting a definite expiration date. However, Banks said it hangs in a precarious position.
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“Right now, the Supreme Court of New Mexico has a stay (of execution on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to end the moratorium), but they have the power to unpause these evictions at any moment,” Banks said. “We need the state legislature to take action.”
Banks said the state’s federally allocated $178 million towards renter’s assistance has been too slowly dispersed, with only around $38 million handed out to New Mexicans as of Sept. 3. With a spending deadline of Sept. 30, a large portion of that fund could be reallocated to other states while New Mexico faces a continuing housing crisis.
Many of the attending protesters also highlighted grievances with budget allocations on the federal, state and local levels.
“The amount of debt owed by renters right now is 8% of what the United States spends on military,” Bex Hampton, a PSL member and local activist, said. “A small cut to the military would make a large difference to working-class people in the country, but Congress hasn’t moved to do that.”
Hampton said that, on the local level, they would like to see funds previously allocated toward law enforcement and recreational projects redirected towards aiding the unhoused peoples of the city.
Other demands brought up were the formation of a tenants union, additional public housing and streamlined renter’s assistance.
“Between 2018 and 2019, New Mexico had the highest increase in homelessness at 27%, which is shocking,” Hampton said.
Hampton quoted the 2019 Apartment List, which found that “more than half of Albuquerque renters spend at least 30% of their salary on rent,” which was a higher percentage than more notoriously expensive cities like Portland or San Francisco.
Dylan Haworth is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @dylanhaworth2