ABQ rejects rent control measure despite substantial rent hikes

Constituents addressing the council/ Lara Sullivan NM News Port

Lara Sullivan / NM News Port

Albuquerque City Council voted 7-2 against a controversial memorial to end the prohibition on rent control. Preceding the vote, local housing activists held a rally in Civic Plaza, demanding action. The demonstrators then provided hours of public comment during the council meeting.

The memorial – which would not have introduced rent control but would have encouraged state lawmakers to make possible – was sponsored by Tammy Fiebelkorn of District 7. She, along with council President Isaac Benton, voted affirmatively.

Fiebelkorn closed the issue by crediting the housing activists for speaking up.

 “The People’s Housing Project has won because they wanted us to acknowledge the housing crisis in Albuquerque and I think that we heard that from every single person who spoke tonight.”

Albuquerque rent has increased by 40% in two years, according to new data published by Apartment List, including a 26% increase in 2021. This is, in part, due to inflation; but is also exacerbated by job growth in the region, including the film industry, a new Amazon warehouse, expansion at intel and other businesses.

 “Because of these large and frequent rent increases, our sisters and brothers are being forcibly removed from their historic homes and communities and subsidizing the gentrification and hardships faced by New Mexican families,” Albuquerque resident Alyssa Sanchez said during public comment at the meeting.

Data published by the Urban Institute affirms that the amount of affordable rental units is shrinking, as 1 out of 4 households have extremely low incomes. It is also estimated that the current minimum wage of $11.50 in New Mexico fails to allow a living wage.

Rent control is contentious because some believe there is a possibility it could discourage new investment and construction.

“Rent control, even though there are a lot of really passionate stories that make a lot of sense, is not the solution. If anything it makes things worse,” said commercial real estate realtor Joe Farr. “Nobody is going to build more units because it doesn’t make sense.”

The details on rent control vary from state to state but Oregon has decided that rent increases cannot exceed 10.3% per year, and Manhattan has a 7.5% rent increase cap. There are currently 26 states that ban rent control.

The Peoples Housing Project aims to remove New Mexico’s ban on rent control in order to let Albuquerque residents vote on whether the city should cap the rent increases landlords can charge existing tenants per year.

The housing advocates say rent control provides for greater community stability. The group argues such measures protect tenants from predatory landlords and slow down gentrification that would displace some residents in favor of new and wealthier tenants.

They also propose a regulation to control the amount of properties converted into short-term vacation rentals like Airbnbs.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has weighed in with a plan. On the same day of the council meeting, Keller announced a city initiative to address the housing crisis by adding an additional 5,000 new units to the housing market. The plan includes a push to convert commercial properties, such as office buildings and hotels into residential units. It would also place a cap on short-term vacation rental properties and limit tenant application fees, especially in complexes that accept housing vouchers.

“Albuquerque families feel and see the housing crisis everyday,” Keller said. “For lower income families, housing is vital for their security and prosperity. This is about ensuring everyone has a place in the city we call home.”