Mayor Alan Webber announced an update to the city’s emergency proclamation late Tuesday that indefinitely freezes evictions during the COVID-19 crisis. It also puts a moratorium on water shut-offs, delays lodger’s tax collection, and makes all public buses free, effective immediately.
“The mayor is prohibiting the eviction of residential and commercial property tenants whose ability to pay has been adversely impacted by the public health emergency,” reads a notice the city sent by email at 7:35 pm. Webber first issued the proclamation on March 13 to limit public gatherings for three days, then amended it to be effective through March 23.
The housing topic is something many Santa Fe residents have been pushing on the mayor and the governor about for several days.
Vince Gonzalez is an employee at a downtown store who says he first got the idea on Friday, after hearing patrons and other employees talk about the news all day long and discuss measures other cities were taking to help families as schools and businesses shutter. Since then, he has called both the mayor and the governor repeatedly, asking them to freeze rents in New Mexico and in Santa Fe.
“No one I know isn’t working class—in the sense that they all need to work if they are going to make it by, pay rent,” he tells SFR by phone, noting that he and many of his friends began to worry seriously about rent as elected officials took rapid measures to stop the spread of the virus such as limiting large gatherings and ordering restaurants to cut their capacity by half.
In the last few days, he says, he’s begun to hear workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries talking about getting hours cut at their jobs and the fear of long-term unemployment.
“It’s hard to get by in this city,” Gonzalez says, adding that he normally makes a decent income as an employee at the store but that many people, such as day laborers, will be even harder hit. “I am precarious, but there are layers to precarity in Santa Fe.”
Helen Pinch, a barista at Iconik Coffee Roasters, says she first saw the idea being circulated on local social media forums as other cities initiated rent freezes in some of the country’s regions that have been hit hardest by the virus. Pinch is a member of the Santa Fe chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and asked some of the other members to join her in bringing the urgency of the housing crisis back to the attention of the mayor, county officials and even the sheriff.
“We see it as a public health hazard to do evictions right now…It would put so many people out on the streets and at risk if we don’t do this now. If people get sick because they don’t have secure shelter they put others at risk as well,” she says on the phone Monday afternoon before the mayor’s announcement.
Spokesman Tripp Stelnicki says a statewide eviction freeze is something Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is also looking into. He tells SFR by email, “we’re working on how that could be done.”
It’s a measure that other cities, such as San Francisco and New York, have already enacted in an effort to keep people housed as these cities grind towards a halt.
On Monday, the Bay Area issued a “shelter in place” order that prohibits residents from making any unnecessary trips beyond their front doors. According to The Guardian, more than 90 cities and states have already suspended water shutoffs for residents who can’t afford to pay their bills.
Gonzalez says he’s happy that New Mexico officials have acted swiftly to keep working people in their homes, but he also thinks Webber should have acted faster considering that lack of affordable housing was already a pressing issue in Santa Fe before the virus hit.
“There was a real lack of leadership all last week and yesterday about what was going on,” he says, noting that city officials repeatedly told him the mayor did not have the power to impact rents when he called.
New Mexicans are likely to see even more measures such as this along with more stringent social distancing measures by the end of the week. Lujan Grisham plans to deliver a public update Wednesday at noon. The address will be broadcast live on Facebook at facebook.com/GovMLG. The Legislative Council Service will livestream the update on its website, nmlegis.gov, under the “Webcast” tab.
Santa Fe’s proclamation updates also include relief to parking fees in the downtown area. Workers began placing bags over parking meters Tuesday to prevent payments.