LAS CRUCES – Residents and real estate analysts say the city’s housing and rental market continues to grow, pricing those at the lower end of the wage scale.
Natalie Medina is one of those residents. She says she recently escaped an abusive relationship, leaving her, her teenage daughter and son looking for housing without much savings. She works for $ 12 an hour in a recovery center. It’s enough to rent a two-bedroom apartment in a less desirable part of town, she said.
Medina has applied for rent assistance through the Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority, also known as Section 8 Housing Voucher, which provides a set amount of money each month to area residents to prevent families from falling into a homeless cycle.
For two years Medina has been on the waiting list for a voucher. About a month ago, she and her family received approval for a three-bedroom apartment. The MVPHA requires families using housing assistance to have separate bedrooms for children of the opposite sex over the age of 5. Hence, they will have to relocate from their current life situation.
Medina said the monthly salary could help her family improve their standard of living by providing peace of mind and comfort and reducing stress.
As soon as it was approved, a 60-day watch started counting the days when Medina had to find a place to live or the voucher would expire and be back on the waiting list.
“They (MVPHA) told us that if you find something, even if it’s in a bad area, get it because there’s nothing on the market right now,” Medina said.
More than 30 days have passed and Medina is still looking for something she can afford that meets the needs of the family and MVPHA. You have to pay the rent difference that the voucher does not cover.
He calls the tenant market in Las Cruces “unpleasant”. That sentiment is supported by Natalie Green and Erin Boyd, who both analyze the local real estate market.
Boyd, the housing manager for Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, which provides services to the destitute in Doña Ana County, said that before the pandemic it was easy to connect with landlords with available and affordable units. Today is a challenge.
“There is a lack of affordable housing in our community, period and it’s not just single housing units, it’s family units, single family homes …” Boyd said.
Why are rents rising?
From 2019 to 2021, Las Cruces was a boon from the real estate market. The number of active listings dropped from 700 to 350, and the average home price increased from $ 197,000 to $ 250,000 over those two years. More competition for fewer homes means higher prices, good news for real estate agents and sellers, but not always for buyers.
Those who are unable to obtain a home will remain as renters, which means fewer units to rent. More competition for fewer units to rent means higher rental unit prices.
“It’s like a domino effect,” said Green, head of housing and neighborhood services in the city.
Factors such as natural inflation, the pandemic and some potential rental units turned into short-term rentals, such as AirBNB, have also led to increased demand and rents.
What is considered an affordable rental in Las Cruces?
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as housing where the occupant pays no more than 30% of their gross income for housing plus utilities.
Green said that based on that calculation, the average family in Las Cruces should pay no more than $ 600 a month in housing plus utilities for “affordable housing.”
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The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Las Cruces is around $ 742 per month, according to Fair Market Rent, and that doesn’t include utilities.
Data from the city’s Economic Development Department says that 70% of the city’s tenants pay more than 30% of their income for housing costs.
“It’s a tough challenge and there are no easy answers, and even though it looks like it’s just Las Cruces, it’s really all over the country,” Green said.
Those who benefit from government assistance face additional obstacles
Currently, more than 10 million Americans use federal rent assistance to afford modest housing.
However, those using federal rental assistance face obstacles, including the fact that vouchers rarely cover enough to allow for a modest standard of living and there is a stigma that comes with assistance.
Many owners refuse to accept vouchers because the individual does not have a reliable or high enough income outside of care, according to Green.
At Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, Boyd ensures that he has more than enough coupons available for the people who need them, but they are not units to use them on.
Various programs are helping those benefiting from government assistance to find accommodation.
The City of Las Cruces is partnering with the New Mexico Department of Children, Youth, and Families on a project called the Owner Incentive Mitigation Fund, which will provide owners with extra funds to renovate units if they are willing to bring more people with vouchers.
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In June, the city of Albuquerque voted to ban “source of income discrimination,” which seeks to help low-income tenants find secure, stable housing wherever they see fit. Las Cruces will monitor how that mandate works in Albuquerque so they can eventually do something similar, Green said.
Medina said owners who deny vouchers have considered her struggle to find a new place to live. Your current landlord does not accept government assistance vouchers.
Furthermore, Medina said that after a disagreement with a fellow tenant in a previous apartment complex, she was evicted. She said the landlord claimed the eviction was due to her not paying the rent, a claim she says is not true. Lacking the means to fight the eviction, she Medina said eviction for not paying her rent is now on her tenant record, which adds to the fact that her owners aren’t giving her a chance.
“I have no criminal record or anything like that,” Medina said. “Even if I try to explain, they don’t give me a chance”,
Annya Loya is a senior journalist and can be contacted at email@example.com or @annialoya on Twitter.