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New Mexico accelerates pace of rental assistance payments

September 3, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State financial officials says about $38 million has been paid out in federal rental and utility assistance across New Mexico in efforts to stabilize the housing market and avoid future evictions, amid the economic turmoil of the pandemic.

Finance and Administration Secretary Deborah Romero told a legislative panel Thursday that the state has streamlined efforts to deliver rental assistance aid, allowing seven days for landlords to collect rental assistance before depositing money with tenants.

She said a small portion of landlords appear to be reluctant to accept payment directly that triggers a report of income to the IRS. More than 80% of payments have been channeled through landlords so far.

The aid program can be used for a variety of housing obligations such as overdue rent payments, bills for transitional housing in motels and even so-called rent-to-own contracts in which rent may counts toward purchasing. The relief also is being used to pay off household gas, electric, sewer and trash services. Even firewood pellets for heating are eligible.

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New Mexico has placed a moratorium on evictions for tenants who are unable to pay rent, with no expiration date. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed evictions to move forward in states that have no moratorium.

At the same time, states and local governments are racing against a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a large portion of initial rental assistance. Slow moving states could see their portion of the money redistributed to other areas of the country.

Romero said her agency is confident it will meet the deadline after paying down about 46% of an initial federal appropriation.

The state has dedicated an additional $5.3 million in federal aid toward marketing and advertising of the opportunity for assistance.

President Biden’s administration has called on state and local officials to move aggressively in distributing rental assistance funds and urged state and local courts to issue their own moratoriums to discourage eviction filings until landlords and tenants have sought the funds.