URGENT ACTION ALERT: Ask the governor to create rent relief fund to prevent homelessness!

To prevent a dramatic rise in homelessness as New Mexico navigates the COVID-19 crisis and its economic aftermath, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham must prioritize housing relief, including legislation creating a rent relief fund and protections for renters in the upcoming special session this week. Legislative leaders have worked diligently on a crucial housing protection and rent relief package for New Mexico, but the Legislature cannot hear it unless the governor puts the legislation on her agenda.  

New Mexico received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to support New Mexicans impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. These funds should be used to prevent a housing crisis in New Mexico.

Call the governor at (505) 476-2200 before Wednesday, June 17 and ask her to create a rent relief fund and put housing protections on the agenda for the special session! You will only be able to leave a short, simple message on the phone with one or two points, but you can also email the Governor at this link with more extensive comments.

Information to consider including in your message to the governor about this important issue:

  • All New Mexicans deserve access to safe and stable housing, and especially during a pandemic. 
  • Right now, thousands of families in our state can’t pay rent because of the pandemic-related economic downturn. 
  • New Mexico was already struggling with a housing crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, and our communities cannot afford for this problem to get any worse. 
  • As current eviction protections and unemployment begin to end this summer, we need the state, through the Governor and the Legislature, to act to mitigate the financial devastation for families and prevent a dramatic rise in homelessness. 
  • If the state does not act in the special session, many New Mexican families will become homeless in the coming months. 
  • A sharp increase in homelessness will be devastating not only for families across our state, but entire communities, and our state and local economies for years to come. 
  • Please utilize federal CARES Act dollars to create a statewide rent relief fund. 
  • Please support meaningful legislation in the Special Session to repeal the antiquated statewide rent control ban and give the Governor the power to institute a statewide emergency eviction moratorium.  

Mobile home park residents fight illegal fines and eviction

Residents file class action lawsuit in Second Judicial Court

ALBUQUERQUE—Residents of Aztec Village, a mobile home park in Albuquerque, came together for fairness and dignity in their community today and sued the corporate landlord and manager of the park where their homes are located. The residents charge that Nodel Parks LLC—which owns mobile home parks throughout the country, including six in Albuquerque—and park manager Magdalena Vila illegally and arbitrarily fined them for alleged infractions of community rules and threatened them with eviction when they couldn’t pay. 

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC  are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Parnall and Adams Law. The lawsuit was filed in Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque today.

“Really, the people who live here, we are like family,” said Marlena Martinez, a longtime Aztec Village resident who helped organize residents to fight the park’s unfair practices. “Over 100 families live here, and some of us have been here for over 40 years. It’s an understatement to say that we are invested in our community. Ever since management began unfairly fining us and forcing people out of the community, we have been fighting together for our homes, our financial stability, and to stay together.”

Nodel Parks changed management of Aztec Village in May of 2019 and soon began issuing fines for violations of what the manager said were community rules. However, many of the alleged violations residents were fined for, including disposing of leaves in community dumpsters and having child toys in the front yard, were not actual violations of Aztec Village’s rules. 

Rather, the rules and fines enforced by Nodel Parks are arbitrary decisions that the lawsuit claims are used to intimidate and coerce payment from residents in violation of state law. Residents informed Nodel Parks of the problems, but upper management refused to take any action. As a result, residents are forced to pay the illegal fines and are in danger of losing their homes when they cannot pay. 

The lawsuit comes at a time when New Mexico faces a severe housing crisis. The Housing and Urban Development Department found that the state topped the nation with a rise in homelessness with a 27% increase from 2018 to 2019. Homelessness in Albuquerque alone, rose by 15%.

Mobile homes are the single greatest source of affordable housing stock in the United States.

“Landlords must follow the law and treat residents with respect. There are hundreds of communities like Aztec Park across the state, and unfair policies and practices like these push hard working New Mexican families out of their communities and onto the streets,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “When you own your home but rent the land it’s on, you are at particular risk of unfair and predatory practices by landlords. For this very reason, the New Mexico Legislature enacted the New Mexico Mobile Home Park Act to protect mobile home park residents.”

The state Mobile Home Park Act requires mobile home park owners to publish and enforce community rules only after soliciting comments from the community and posting responses. The law prohibits mobile home park owners from charging fines for violations of community rules and/or rental agreements. Instead, the law requires notice and an opportunity to rectify a violation. 

The families are asking the court to order defendants to stop:

  • Issuing fines for alleged or actual violations of rental agreements and/or the community rules and regulations;
  • Sending notices that threaten to evict or take further action against tenants if they don’t pay the fines; 
  • Rejecting rent from tenants if the total amount does not include any fines assessed against the tenant. 

The families are also asking the court to require the defendants to pay money damages for each instance in which the park management violated New Mexico law.

“I’m a homeowner just like any other and deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,” said Martinez.  “We are not going to let them get away with tearing our communities apart and cheating us out of our homes.”

Attorneys on the lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC, include Maria Griego, Lindsay Cutler, and Sovereign Hager from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and David Adams and Charles Parnall from Parnall and Adams Law.

The complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-chavez-v-nodel-parks-llc-01-30-2020/

The exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-chavez-v-nodel-parks-2020-01-30/

Trump’s alarming “Public Charge” rule attacks immigrants, threatening access to food and healthcare

The Trump administration greenlights rule despite massive public opposition

ALBUQUERQUE—Widespread, devastating impact looms as the Trump administration sidesteps Congress with “Public Charge” changes. The expanded “Public Charge” rule allows the government to deny permanent residency (green cards) and visa renewals to lawfully present immigrants who participate in basic need programs like Medicaid, housing assistance, and SNAP food assistance. The rule also adds specific requirements into the public charge test, including income, age, health and English proficiency. Advocacy groups condemn the new rule, which goes into effect October 15, 2019.

“Immigrant communities contribute so much to the cultural, civic, and economic fabric of our state and nation,” said Fabiola Landeros, a community organizer with El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Once again the Trump administration is targeting our communities, persecuting the most vulnerable based on their economic status, and trying to minimize our political power. No family should be forced to choose between feeding their children or having access to medical care or risking family separation. In New Mexico, we value taking care of our families and neighbors. As Nuevo Mexicanos, we need to look for solutions to provide safety net services for our communities and we must fight back against Trump’s racist agenda by continuing to organize and building upon our legacy in New Mexico of supporting immigrant integration.”   

“The expanded public charge rule is an attack on all immigrants, including children and seniors who, like any working American, may need to access supplemental benefits at any point such as subsidized housing or food stamps,” said Kay Bounkeua, Executive Director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. “The Asian population has a high rate of family sponsorships and limited English proficiency—the expanded testing will result in keeping families apart and undermine the strengths and contributions of a racially diverse community.”

Congress made many lawfully present immigrants eligible for basic needs assistance to promote economic stability. Historically, administrations of both parties have only considered receipt of cash benefits and institutional care as reasons to deny lawfully present immigrants visa renewals or to deny their application for permanent residency. 

“We have a shared responsibility to make sure no one in our community, especially children, go without basic needs,” said Teague Gonzalez, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Immigrants contribute exponentially more to our tax system that supports basic benefit programs than they draw in direct assistance. Trump’s new rule furthers a cruel and racist agenda meant to separate families and spread fear. It will turn the U.S. immigration system into a pay-to-play game that unfairly favors the wealthiest households.”

“We envision a vibrant New Mexico where all people—regardless of immigration status—can achieve their full potential and are treated with dignity and respect,” said Eduardo García, an attorney with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. “This harsh change in policy targeting immigrants goes against our core values. It is a tactic to spread fear among immigrants, discourage immigration, and harm immigrants by preventing them from having access to public resources. Further, this policy change and the ugly rhetoric behind it continue to fuel hatred, xenophobia, and racism against immigrants. Nonetheless, we will fight back and NMILC will provide guidance to people that need it.” 

“We are saddened by the Trump administration’s decision to force our country’s green card applicants to make an impossible choice between legally receiving public benefits and getting their green cards, both of which they need to succeed in our country,” said Tess Wilkes of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. “The complexity of this rule change will discourage many eligible folks in the immigrant community from even applying for much-needed public benefits for themselves and their children, at a time when many of them already feel under attack.”

The proposed changes to public charge policy are already causing significant harm. Fear and confusion is creating a chilling effect, causing people to disenroll from programs and forgo benefits. The impact is far-reaching in New Mexico—nearly one in 10 New Mexicans is an immigrant, and one in nine have immigrant parents. Over 77,000 U.S. citizen children in New Mexico live with at least one immigrant parent and are in a family that receives basic food assistance. A Manatt Health analysis estimates that, across the country, as many as 26 million people and their families could be dissuaded from using public benefits under the proposed rule change. 

“The American spirit is rooted in the welcoming of the stranger into our communities—it is in the belief that all coming to our communities should be cared for and that everyone has the opportunity to be given the resources necessary to climb out of poverty and contribute to the community,” said James Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities. “Throughout the history of this nation, the foreign born welcomed into our community have contributed to and strengthened the fabric of our nation, and participated in our national defense and advanced our society. Penalizing through an expansion of public-charge testing of immigrants will only lead to self-injury to the American society and our nation.” 

New Mexico stands to lose as many as 2,700 jobs and nearly $400 million in economic activity because eligible New Mexicans will forego federal benefits that flow directly into the state’s economy. Immigrant-led households in New Mexico paid $756.9 million in federal taxes and $394.3 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

“The vast majority of children in New Mexico–97%–are U.S.-born citizens. But that shouldn’t matter. Every child living in New Mexico, regardless of where they or their parents were born, deserves the healthcare, food assistance, and other benefits they’re eligible for and need in order to thrive,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “As with the family separations–which are still going on–this is an unconscionable and racist immigration policy that will have very negative, life-long consequences for children.”

“Punishing people for accepting help with food, housing, and medical care that they are eligible for, and have contributed tax dollars to, will have devastating and widespread effects on New Mexico’s communities,” added Gonzalez. “The expanded rule will push people further into poverty, separate families, and lead to overall worse health outcomes and higher rates of food insecurity in our state. We are already hearing from families who are afraid to seek help for their children.” 

For more information please see the following handouts in English and Spanish. People concerned about their benefits or immigration status should speak to an immigration attorney about the best route for families to take.
 

Stop Trump’s attack on immigrant families!

The Trump administration is proposing a new rule that would force immigrant families to decide between living together and separating to avoid eviction from housing. 

In May, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule that would prevent “mixed status” families from living in public housing together or receiving Section 8 housing vouchers. Mixed status families consist of family members who are both eligible and ineligible to receive public housing assistance based on their immigration status.

Under current rules, ineligible family members can live in the same household with their family, but the amount of HUD assistance is based upon the number of eligible family members. None of the public housing assistance pays for an ineligible family member’s share of rent.

The Trump administration’s proposed rule is a blanket attack on all immigrant families who need housing assistance. A person can have lawful immigration status, but still not be eligible for housing assistance. Examples of immigrants with legal status who do not qualify for public housing assistance include immigrants with student or work visas as well as survivors of serious crimes who are granted U-visas.

Please tell the Trump administration to abandon this harsh and unfair rule!

HUD’s own analysis states that over 55,000 children who are U.S. citizens or green card holders could be evicted from their family homes under the proposed policy. 

It would also force tens of thousands of housing providers to collect documents from residents “proving” their citizenship. This requirement will impact over nine million U.S. citizens and 120,000 elderly immigrants. Many of these tenants, especially the elderly and those who have disabilities, face serious obstacles accessing required documentation.

Tell the Trump administration to keep families together in New Mexico and the nation by submitting your public comment by July 9, 2019!

Below is some content to include in your comment. To maximize its impact, make sure your comment has at least one third original text. You can submit your comment here: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=HUD-2019-0044

Sample content for your public comment:

  • Families will face the decision of either breaking up in order to receive housing assistance or forgoing assistance and facing homelessness in order to stay to together.
  • Mixed status families will be evicted within 18 months of the implementation of the new rule or sooner.
  • HUD’s statistics show that the proposed rule will evict as many as 25,000 immigrant families including 55,000 children who are eligible for housing assistance.
  • Over 9 million United States citizens and 120,000 elderly immigrants must provide further documentation of eligibility in order to continue receiving housing assistance. Many of these individuals will face serious obstacles accessing the required documentation.
  • The proposed rule will actually cost more to provide housing assistance to fewer people. Millions of families struggle to find affordable housing; however, blaming immigrants will not solve this problem. Since existing law requires that subsides are prorated to only assist eligible immigrants or citizens in a household, the new rule will merely shift housing assistance benefits to other eligible individuals. HUDs own analysis admits that the policy will cost approximately $200 million dollars and will result in reduced quality and quantity of assisted housing.
  • The policy will result in significant administrative costs and burdens. It will require housing providers to verify documentation that was not previously required from millions of residents. Additionally, it will force housing authorities to develop new policies to determine which families can continue to receive housing assistance.