On Jan. 18, activists, volunteers and community members attended a rally on the first day of the 2022 New Mexico legislative session in Santa Fe. The rally, hosted by the People’s Housing Project, was part of the launch of a campaign to end the prohibition on rent control in New Mexico.
While Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham and the legislature were comfortably enjoying the opening ceremonies in the state capitol, Albuquerque residents gathered outside in the bitter cold and wind to ensure that their voices were heard. Community and religious leaders joined with residents and People’s Housing Project organizers to speak out about their personal experiences around housing and to demand an end to the New Mexico prohibition on rent control.
Currently, the U.S. is experiencing a severe housing crisis. In Albuquerque, as in every city, housing costs are skyrocketing — affordable, secure housing is increasingly out of reach. In 2020, rent increased 8 percent in Albuquerque and an additional 23 percent in 2021, double the national average. Meanwhile, income has not increased in parity with inflation, leaving more and more residents vulnerable to even small increases in rent. The confluence of skyrocketing housing costs and stagnant incomes means that thousands of New Mexicans are now at risk of homelessness and dire poverty. The political elite stood by and watched this crisis unfold, often profiting from the misery inflicted on those who are unable to keep up with rising costs.
Rent control illegal in New Mexico, making it a landlord’s paradise
To combat this crisis, the People’s Housing Project is demanding that the New Mexico legislature overturn the statewide prohibition on rent control. As it is in 37 states, rent control is illegal in New Mexico, and landlords can increase rent and housing costs without restraint. Enacted in 1991, New Mexico’s prohibition on rent control outlaws any attempt to place restrictions on landlords’ power to profit from housing. More and more of Albuquerque’s working-class residents are demanding that rent control be enacted to aid their battles against housing profiteers.
Among the crowd of attendees at the rally was Lyra Mancini, a single mother who was laid off at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Soon thereafter, Mancini and her five-year-old son were evicted for the sole reason that her landlord decided to renovate and sell her home for profit. In Mancini’s desperate search for new housing, she was forced to move from place to place, finally living in an unfinished warehouse.
Lyra Mancini told Liberation News that she “fought tooth and nail” to get into affordable housing, and she was eventually accepted into a newly built, federally-funded housing project run by a local nonprofit organization. The housing project managers, however, refused to provide her with a move-in date.
“Because it is federally funded, it was not a priority,” Mancini says. “The developers would not communicate with the nonprofit. They just kept saying next month, next month.” During this time, Mancini spent her entire life savings on hotel rooms. While she finally did move into affordable housing, she feels that many will not be as fortunate as she was. “My kiddo is resilient,” she said, “but there are people out there struggling — like a woman I know who had to wrap her newborn baby in a snowsuit because her heater didn’t work, but finding better housing was impossible.”
Jay Wilson, a speaker from the Black Economic and Security and Solidarity Fund, told about being illegally evicted. “Where I lived, my housing didn’t have adequate heating,” Wilson said. “My roommates and I would be wearing jackets all day and huddled next to a space heater.” When Wilson’s negligent landlord performed a random inspection, he punitively confiscated Wilson’s personal space heaters. The following day, the landlord became belligerent towards Wilson and served the tenants of that apartment with an eviction notice. Wilson explained that the issue of safe, affordable housing can mean life or death, and that landlords will always choose to disregard tenants’ safety when their wallets are on the line.
Reckless negligence is rampant in the for-profit housing industry, as the fire in the Bronx, New York showed, where an inferno originating from a space heater killed 17 residents, including 8 children. Housing can be a matter of life and death when a landlord prefers to cut costs rather than address tenants’ serious needs for adequate, safe housing.
The People’s Housing Project is mobilizing thousands across New Mexico to build a movement to bring an end to the housing crisis. Every day, people are joining this movement demanding affordable, safe, and clean housing as a guaranteed right. To secure this right, the People’s Housing Project demands that the prohibition on rent control be lifted and that communities be given the democratic, political power to protect the thousands of renters facing homelessness and poverty in our communities.
Photo: the People’s Housing Project, residents and supporters gather outside the capitol building in Santa Fe on January 18. Liberation photo.