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NM Center on Law & Poverty sues affordable housing apartment complex in Española

ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (KRQE) – Tenants of a New Mexico apartment complex afraid of losing the roofs over their heads are suing their landlord and the federal government. It’s the latest blow for low-income tenants in Española, where another affordable housing complex was condemned a year and a half ago.

“This is really affecting people’s lives,” said Wolf Bomgardner, Economic Equity Attorney for New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty (NMCLP).

“We bought the apartment complex knowing that it was… there was low-income folks there,” said James Gomez, CEO of Villas De Avenida Canada LLC- the company named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The apartment complex in Española has been operating for nearly 40 years. It caters to those with low income through a federal rural housing program that pays for two-thirds of a tenant’s rent. “I’ve had clients who’ve been in these houses for literal generations,” Bomgardner said.

However, after the previous owner of the property paid off the federal loan and sold the property to a new owner last year, some are concerned that dozens of tenants living in the complex may soon have to find other housing; as rents increase, and tenant protections that came with the program were stripped away.

“It’s about ensuring that this cornerstone property that has been so important to the people of Española can stay open, and stay affordable,” Bomgardner explained.

In a class action lawsuit filed by NMCLP, they allege that legally, the program should have remained active for another 12 years under an agreement between the old and new owners. “That actually violates USDA’s own guidelines and violates federal law,” Bomgardner added.

However, the new owner says that agreement is no longer in place, and they’ve worked to keep tenants in their homes. “During those six months, we didn’t hardly collect any rent at all from many of the tenants,” Gomez said.

Since purchasing the property, the new owners say they have made repairs to the buildings and increased security. “We’ve renovated almost 100% of the apartment complex,” Gomez explained.

It’s something some tenants KRQE News 13 spoke to over the phone say they’re grateful for.

“It’s been like night and day,” said Preston Cockerell, a tenant at the complex.
“Now it’s just turned around, it’s amazing,” said Katrina Griego, another tenant at the complex. “You don’t have to worry so much.”

While some tenants have signed up for other housing voucher programs, attorneys in the lawsuit say it’s not enough, and the goal is to get the original program reinstated. “People have become unhoused because they were told they needed to leave, and there have been people who are now being threatened with having to pay market rent in these apartments,” Bomgardner said.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the previous owners of the property who originally received the federal funding but did not hear back.

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