Albuquerque Enacts New Source-of-Income Protections for Section 8 Renters

Like other cities in the U.S., Albuquerque is experiencing a worsening housing crisis. To address the crisis, the City Council of Albuquerque voted 5 to 4 on June 6 to pass legislation (Ordinance O-22-16) to prohibit discrimination against renters based on source of income. The bill – which protects renters receiving rental assistance from the government from being denied access to housing – is an important step forward in the effort to support low-income households, who face barriers to safe and affordable housing that have only become worse since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Source of income” (SOI) refers to those wages and other forms of compensation or resources with which  people pay their rent. People whose sources of income include federal subsidies like Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers commonly experience discrimination when searching for homes in places without strong tenant protections. Until recently, Albuquerque was such a jurisdiction. The pandemic created economic strains for many renters in Albuquerque, requiring them to seek out rental assistance through Section 8 vouchers or Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA).

However, while the need for federal subsidies increased in the city, the number of landlords willing to accept those subsidies did not. According to a survey by Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless (AHCH), only 35% of landlords surveyed accepted housing vouchers and 83.5% of landlords surveyed required that tenants have an income two to three-and-a-half times greater than the rent. The pandemic has increased the difficulties for low-income people, since landlords are more likely not to accept vouchers, even though voucher holders have been shown to owe less in back rent than non-voucher holders.

Due to growing inequities experienced by low-income people in Albuquerque, tenant advocacy organizations in the area were quick to throw their weight behind Ordinance O-22-16. The ordinance would amend the Albuquerque Human Rights Ordinance to protect a person’s right to housing by banning discrimination based on SOI. In addition to banning SOI discrimination, the legislation appropriated funds for the study of housing discrimination in Albuquerque, a $150,000 landlord incentive program, and educational resources addressing the new SOI provision in the Human Rights Ordinance.

Many landlords advocated against the legislation due to concerns over the possibility that it would lead to increased burdens, more paperwork, and problems of other kinds. However, City Councilor Brook Bassan, who helped introduce the legislation, argued that prohibiting discrimination on the basis of SOI would end up helping both landlords and tenants in the long run. Advocates also countered objections by arguing that landlords would receive rent payments more quickly if tenants were to receive assistance from community-based organizations (CBOs) and housing authorities, which would receive additional resources under the legislation.

“Everyone in Albuquerque deserves safe and stable housing,” said Rachel Biggs, chief strategy officer at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless. “Ending source-of-income discrimination will ensure no one is unfairly excluded from housing because their payment mechanism is a rental subsidy, or other city, state, or federal assistance. Housing vouchers are valuable and essential tools to address homelessness and housing instability during and after the pandemic. Now, Albuquerque will be the first city in New Mexico to protect renters from discrimination based on their source of income, decreasing barriers to accessing safe and affordable housing and deconcentrating poverty. We thank the sponsors Councilors Brook Bassan and Pat Davis, the Albuquerque City Council, and the City of Albuquerque for supporting this critically needed legislation.”       

Once Mayor Tim Keller signs the ordinance, the city will have 90 days to implement the legislation. The Keller administration has already confirmed its support of O-22-16. Moving forward, advocates will play a hand in ensuring that the legislation is implemented and being enforced by tracking the use of educational resources, the operation of the landlord incentive program, and the deployment of housing inspections to promote fair housing. Their work will help other localities in New Mexico pass similar legislation and lead to greater support for statewide legislation. To learn more about the efforts of advocates in Albuquerque, please reach out to Rachel Biggs of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless at [email protected], or call her at (505) 766-5197.