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State offers grants to help with housing payments

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A state program to help New Mexico residents affected by the COVID-19 crisis pay their housing costs will begin to take applications Monday.

Isidoro Hernandez, executive director of the New Mexico Mortgage
Finance Authority (Submitted Photo)

The program has $12.3 million in state funding and will provide grants of up to $1,500 a month for three months to renters, homeowners, mobile home owners and residential land owners who are behind on their payments.

Eligible recipients include tribal land residents and those whose incomes are 80% or less than the area median income. The payments will go directly to landlords or lenders. The COVID-19 Housing Cost Assistance Program is being administered by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

“As the state’s affordable housing agency, we know all too well how many New Mexicans are worried about keeping a roof over their heads during this difficult time,” said Mortgage Finance Authority Executive Director Isidoro Hernandez.

He added that the program will “provide relief and peace of mind for many.”

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Unemployment in New Mexico remains high due to the pandemic. It stood at 9.4% in New Mexico in September 2020, compared to 4.8% in September 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Chaves County, unemployment in August 2020 was 11.7%, compared to 5% in August 2019. There are now about 3,207 people unemployed in the county.

The Finance Authority also indicated that its own data showed that the number of homeowners whose mortgage payments are 90 days or more late has increased 150% from August 2019 to August 2020.

The National Council of State Housing Agencies also has reported that 53,000 to 61,000 New Mexico households that rent are at risk of future eviction, with somewhere between $58 million to $65 million owed to landlords.

The rental and housing cost assistance applications can be made online at the Finance Authority website, www.housingnm.org, from 8 a.m. Monday until 5 p.m. Nov. 13. Information about needed documents is also on the website, and people are encouraged to start gathering application materials now. Residents also can call 505-308-4206 or 866-488-0498 for more information.

Funding decisions will be made based on income levels and tribal land residency, as well as time and date of application, with those who apply earliest given priority. The Mortgage Finance Authority said it will fund all applications if enough money is available.

People should be notified within 21 days of their application about the funding decision, and given 10 days to supply missing information if needed, according to MFA Director of Communications and Marketing Leann Kemp.

She said it remains to be seen if additional funding will be made available after the first $12.3 million allotment.

“We hope so,” Kemp said, “but it will up to the state to allocate.”

A representative of apartment complexes and multifamily units in the state said that other states have introduced similar programs in prior months and that the national apartment owners association continues to work with federal legislators on a larger relief bill for landlords and renters, which he said is not likely to happen until after the election.

“The landlords have definitely been hit hard by COVID,” said Alan LaSeck, executive director of the Apartment Association of New Mexico. “Eviction moratoriums are difficult on landlords and on tenants. I think tenants feel better when they can pay their rent. The relationship is stronger with management and renters when there is more assistance out there.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.