From the Field: New Mexico Advocates Demand More Funding for Housing and Expansion of Hate Crimes Protection

Members and allies of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH), an NLIHC State Partner, rallied at the state capitol in Santa Fe on January 27 for NMCEH’s annual Lobby Day. More than 90 advocates from across the state told their State Representatives and Senators that New Mexico must invest more in solutions to homelessness and must expand the state’s hate crimes law to include homelessness as a protected class.

Hank Hughes, Executive Director of NMCEH, reported that the members of both parties were generally receptive to the advocates’ messages and supportive of programs like permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing. However, New Mexico faces a tight budget environment this legislative session caused by recent reductions in tax revenues, including oil tax revenues due to plummeting oil prices worldwide over the past year. All social programs are at risk as legislators are required by state law to pass a balanced budget. The New Mexico state legislature will be in session for only thirty days in 2016, giving advocates limited opportunities to ensure their voices are heard.

The cost-effectiveness of housing programs, especially permanent supportive housing, is central to NMCEH’s advocacy messaging. A report by researchers at the University of New Mexico, titled City of Albuquerque, Heading Home Initiative Cost Study Report, found an average cost savings of $21,498 per resident of permanent supportive housing because these residents no longer have to rely on other, more costly public resources.

NMCEH is advocating for $2.5 million in state funding for permanent supportive housing in 2016, an increase from $1 million in 2015. The group also is advocating for $2 million for rapid rehousing. Currently, rapid rehousing draws small allocations from multiple statewide income support programs. All income support programs in New Mexico were funded at $1 million in 2015, of which Hughes estimates just $200,000 was available for rapid rehousing.

State Representative Tomás Salazar (D) of Torrance and San Miguel counties has introduced a bill to fund permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing at the levels advocated by NMCEH. A budget proposal is expected to reach the floor of the State House by February 5. Any cuts to statewide housing programs in the Republican-controlled State House’s budget proposal can be amended in the Democratic-controlled State Senate, where affordable housing have stronger support.

NMCEH also sees renewed hope for an expansion of the state’s Hate Crimes Law to include homelessness as a protected class. NMCEH and other advocates have long pushed for such an expansion (see Memo, 8/11/14). An effort to do so passed the State Senate with bipartisan support in 2015, before failing to move to committee consideration in the State House. State Senator Bill O’Neill (D) of Northern Albuquerque has introduced a new hate crimes expansion bill this year, which is expected to receive committee consideration this week.

The new hate crimes expansion bill comes as a response to the murder of two indigenous homeless men in Albuquerque in 2014 that community advocates deemed hate crimes. A subsequent Albuquerque task force on indigenous homelessness called for hate crimes legislation (see Memo, 10/26/15). Hughes is hopeful about Senator O’Neill’s bill but recognizes that legislators already have much in front of them in this year’s abbreviated session.

The University of New Mexico City of Albuquerque, Heading Home Initiative Cost Study report is available at: http://isr.unm.edu/reports/2013/city-of-abq-heading-home-initiative-cost-study-phase-1.pdf

For more information, contact Hank Hughes at Hank-H@nmceh.org. Research