Tenants can't be evicted if funds are not available for rent payments

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AZTEC — A program aimed at helping low-income renters with rent payments and utility bills will run out of funding at the end of February if the federal government does not reopen.

While funding for the Section 8 housing voucher program will cease at the end of February, the San Juan County Housing Authority has enough reserves to keep assisting low-income renters through the end of March.

During a San Juan County Commission meeting Tuesday, County Manager Mike Stark said if the government shutdown continues into February, the commission will have to decide the best way to continue providing services for several programs, including Section 8 housing.

The shutdown has lasted for more than a month. While the U.S. Senate voted today on two bills that were intended to reopen the government, neither bill passed.

According to the nonpartisan research and policy institute Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 26,000 New Mexicans rely on some sort of federal rental assistance. More than 12,000 New Mexicans receiving housing vouchers.

San Juan County Housing Authority executive director Faye Anderson said the contracts do not allow landlords to evict tenants if funds are not available for rent payments unless the rental contract expires.

“I’m hoping that our landlords do work with us,” she said. “The ones we have talked to so far have told us that they would be willing to hang in there with us.”

County Commissioner Jim Crowley is one of the landlords who will be impacted if Section 8 housing payments cease. Crowley owns apartment buildings and houses in the county, and receives Section 8 voucher payments on some of his properties.

He said evicting tenants is not only against the contract landlords have with the housing authority, it is also unwise.

“With the (rental) climate right now, as a landlord, you don’t want to get rid of anybody because there’s so many vacancies,” he said. “You just hold on and don’t worry about it.”

He said he did review the lease contracts on his properties. Crowley anticipates being reimbursed if payments do cease.

“Historically, it gets paid, eventually,” Crowley said.

Detention centers also impacted by government shutdown

Section 8 is only one program that could run out of funding in the upcoming months. The juvenile detention center relies on funding from the National School Lunch Program, which will be out of money by the end of March.

The U.S. Department of Justice will only have enough funding to pay for housing of federal inmates at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center through February. The county receives a total of approximately $855 each month for housing federal detainees, according to Stark.

The county has deemed that service a public safety measure and will continue housing the federal detainees regardless of whether it is paid each month by the federal government.

Trail-building project stalls

While some programs are running out of funding, a planned $700,000 trail-building project in the Glade Run Recreation Area has stalled due to the shutdown. The county is partnering with the Bureau of Land Management for the project, but BLM employees are being furloughed during the shutdown. The designs for the project were supposed to be completed by April or May, but the shutdown likely will delay the completion, according to county officials.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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