By Divya Shiv, MPP
April 5, 2022
Every family deserves to know the security that comes from living in a stable, affordable home, especially since stable housing lowers stress for working families and improves outcomes for children. Unfortunately, families who rely on rental assistance are often discriminated against because of the type of income they use to pay rent. This form of discrimination, called “source-of-income discrimination,” limits families’ rental options and increases their risk of housing instability and homelessness. It has no place in our state today.
More than 51,000 New Mexicans rely on federal vouchers to afford housing, and most of them (72%) are families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Stable housing is critical for children’s health and educational attainment, but accessing federal rental assistance is challenging due to limited funding and years-long waiting lists. However, once people finally get assistance, they face another herculean task of finding landlords who will rent to them.
Discrimination based on one’s source of income also impacts people who use Social Security, veteran’s benefits, and even New Mexico’s emergency rental assistance. As of March 2022, New Mexico had disbursed approximately $110 million in rental assistance to help keep tenants housed and landlords paid, but some landlords refuse to accept this rental relief.
This type of discrimination is harmful because it perpetuates housing instability and homelessness and is most likely to hurt people of color and those earning low incomes. In fact, source-of-income discrimination can serve as a proxy for racial and socioeconomic discrimination.
To address this problem, 120 states and municipalities nationwide have passed laws to prevent landlords from denying prospective tenants based solely on their sources of income. People living in areas with these protections are less likely to experience housing instability and homelessness.
Unfortunately, New Mexico and its municipalities currently fail to provide such protection despite rising rental prices and rates of housing instability. Albuquerque ranked as one of the top ten cities for rental increases between 2020 and 2021, and almost half (48%) of New Mexico renters paid more than 30% of their income on rent in 2019, with higher rates for people of color.
To make matters worse, the state’s eviction moratorium will end soon, likely increasing the number of evictions. Banning source-of-income discrimination can address this and help tenants stay housed by preventing landlords from rejecting the state’s emergency rental assistance. It can also help landlords by making their rental payments more reliable without curtailing their ability to screen tenants, charge security deposits, or charge their regular rents. In fact, tenants with federal vouchers owe less back rent than those without, which has helped tenants and landlords withstand the pandemic’s financial effects.
Albuquerque is one of the first New Mexico municipalities considering a ban on this form of discrimination through a city ordinance. Passing this legislation would be an important step to not only help Albuquerque tenants find and maintain housing, but to also provide a model for how other cities and the state can improve housing opportunities for all residents.
Everyone should be able to access secure, safe housing, and families who use federal and state assistance should not be penalized for needing help to cover their costs of living. New Mexico should ban source-of-income discrimination and ensure that all families have access to the housing they need.
Divya Shiv, MPP, is a Research and Policy Analyst at New Mexico Voices for Children.