Lawmakers and tenants call on governor to make rent control a priority for 30-day session

Em Bird-Brown, an organizer with the Peoples Housing Project, leads tenant advocates in a chant in front of the Roundhouse on Saturday. The group is calling on the governor to allow the Legislature this session to strike down a 33-year-old law that prohibits cities from adopting rent control ordinances. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)

By: Patrick Lohmann/ Source New Mexico

The rally in front of the Roundhouse on Saturday was in support of rent control – a policy that caps how much a landlord can raise rent each year – as a tool to address the state’s housing affordability crisis. 

The group wants Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to add the proposal to her call this session, letting lawmakers debate and pass a bill that would revoke a 33-year-old state law that prohibits cities and towns from adopting local rent control ordinances.

If a measure were to be introduced this session, supporters argue the ban would “expand democracy” and let cities decide for themselves the best way to make housing affordable, said Anna Lee DeSaulniers, an organizer with Peoples Housing Project, a group that helped organize the rally in Santa Fe on Saturday.   

A 2022 analysis by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority found that nearly 220,000 households in the state spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Across New Mexico’s cities and counties, average rent for a two-bedroom apartment has increased by a third since 2017, according to a review of federal Housing and Urban Development department data. 

 Ryley Garduño, 8, in pink jacket, and Angela Martinez, 11, hold signs at the rent control rally Saturday. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)

On Jan. 12, eight senators and four representatives, all Democrats, sent a letter to the governor asking her to consider issuing an executive message that would allow the Legislature to take up a bill revoking the ban on local rent control ordinances. No legislation has yet been introduced, but lawmakers have until Jan. 31, the final day to submit new bills during the 2024 session.

The 30-day session is typically limited only to budget or appropriations bills, but the governor can put non-budget items on the agenda if she chooses. 

Sen. Brenda McKenna (D-Corrales) spoke at the rally in favor of revoking the ban. She also introduced legislation last session that, if it had passed, would go a step further by imposing a statewide ban on rent increases more than 10% over a 12-month period. 

“It’s a start,” McKenna said of this year’s push to allow cities control over rent control ordinances. “But for me, it’d be so much easier for our fellow New Mexicans to know that there is rent stabilization and they don’t have to research which city or municipality doesn’t have such limits.”

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee will meet Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. (or half an hour after the full Senate wraps up) to discuss two housing-related bills. It will be webcast here

A Legislative Finance Committee analysis of McKenna’s proposed statewide rent control bill last year said it was “unknown” whether the policy would reduce homelessness or affect the quality or supply of rental housing. 

The bill received pushback from state groups advocating for landlords and realtors, who said the caps would make it less likely investors or developers would build new housing here. The state lacks 32,000 housing units affordable to those who make less than 30% of the area median income, according to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority analysis. 

The governor has already allowed debate on one housing affordability proposal this session, even though it’s a 30-day session.

That bill would bar landlords from refusing to rent to tenants who pay rent with the help of government-subsidized vouchers.

Lujan Grisham is also asking the Legislature to approve $250 million in low-interest loans to spur private-sector home construction, plus another $250 million to help new homeowners pay their down payments or other costs.