Residents of Las Cruces chronicle their struggle to find affordable housing
Rebecca and Jared are both residents of Las Cruces, and recently found housing through Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, a nonprofit that aids individuals experiencing homelessness in the community. After six months of being unhoused, Rebecca said that she is grateful for the assistance, but more needs to be done on a legislative level to help struggling families.
“I was born and raised here, and I have never in all my life seen all the homelessness and everything this bad. It was never this bad,” she said. “There’s people that I know at tent city that they wouldn’t be able to pay this amount.”
Rebecca said that rent for their trailer adds up to $745 a month, and that the main problem in this city is landlords pricing out low-income renters.
“They raise [rents] anywhere from 100% to 150% higher. People here, they’re struggling enough as it is because utilities are high. At the time they get into a place they’re sitting there going, ‘ok, are we going to pay utilities this month or are we going to use the money for food?’”
In 2022, evictions in the United States were up over 80% from the previous year according to a report by evictionlab.org. Since March of 2020, there have been almost 31,000 eviction filings in New Mexico, with nearly 1300 filings last month.
According to Johana Bencomo, Las Cruces City Councilor for District 4, the city has been feeling the effects of rising eviction rates.
“If you talk to our housing staff, they have been getting calls almost every day on [people] getting evicted [that] don’t know what to do. The burden is really on the tenant,” she said. “They have very few rights in this state and I think that’s one of the changes that some representatives are trying to make at the state level that didn’t go through. For us, what we can affect is that moving forward, a source of income discrimination ordinance that hopefully will come to vote [in] council pretty soon so that landlords cannot discriminate against potential tenants because they may have a housing voucher, for example.”
This year, the City of Las Cruces is receiving $1.5 million in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investment into housing projects, including continued investment into the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope. Bencomo said that the way out of the housing crisis is to continue this type of investment in to the community.
“If people want to see the issue of unhoused people resolved, we have to build more housing, we have to build more supportive housing," she said. "People who have lived on the street have experienced trauma. So giving them a shelter does not immediately resolve all of the issues, right? They need supportive housing, they need to make sure that they have access to food, to medical services, to mental health services. So the issue is big and broad and comprehensive, and we’re working on that because that’s the only way forward.”
At the federal level, United States Senator Martin Heinrich said that he’s working to shine a light on the housing needs of New Mexicans.
“One of the things that we’re doing right now is that we’re working the budget process. I sent a letter to the president saying that we really need to look at all the pieces and parts in the federal budget that facilitate housing and prioritize those,” he said. “This is an issue that’s hitting communities all across the country.”
As for Rebecca and Jared, they say their trailer is much more comfortable than Camp Hope, but ultimately, Las Cruces needs more shelters for individuals living on the streets.
“Living in that tent. I don’t know how you guys can do it down here. But boy when that wind blows it’s a hell of a ride,” Jared said.
The projects funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development are scheduled to begin this summer.