New Mexico Legal Aid

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A Fight for Home: New Mexico Legal Aid Champions Section 8 Resident

When New Mexico Legal Aid’s client, a disabled single mother, fled domestic violence, she became entangled in a complex legal situation. She faced the loss of her Section 8 housing choice voucher, which enabled her to afford safe and secure housing for herself and her children.

In November 2022, NMLA’s client sought to port, or transfer, her Section 8 voucher to a different state to escape a domestic violence situation. However, she had difficulty finding housing in the first city she chose and sought to transfer to a different city. Bernalillo County Housing Department (BCHD), which was administering the client’s Section 8 voucher, submitted the paperwork to the second housing authority, which granted the client an extension on the time to use her voucher at a rental property.

With the extremely tight housing market, NMLA’s client again had difficulty finding available housing and requested that her voucher be transferred to a different city. Her disabilities also made it challenging for her to put in the tremendous amount of time necessary to secure a new unit. Initially, BCHD told the client that her voucher had been extended because it had been extended by the second housing authority.

However, BCHD then changed its position and told her that it could not process the port because her voucher had expired. NMLA’s client requested that BCHD extend her voucher as a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities. BCHD provided her with a form to fill out but then declined to process it, stating that her voucher had already expired.

The client sought assistance from NMLA. She requested an informal hearing on the denial of her reasonable accommodation request, part of the due process rights housing authorities must provide to voucher recipients.

NMLA attorney Bryce Dorato represented the client at the informal hearing. BCHD argued that because the voucher had expired, it was not required to consider the client’s reasonable accommodation request. BCHD further argued that, even if the voucher had not expired, it had to deny the reasonable accommodation request. BCHD provided various contradicting reasons as to why the reasonable accommodation request was denied. Unfortunately, the informal hearing officer decided in favor of BCHD. NMLA filed an appeal of the administrative decision to the district court.

In a recent opinion, the Court decided in favor of NMLA’s client, acknowledging that BCHD’s decision to deny the reasonable accommodation request was arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law. The Court also found that BCHD’s changing position on whether or not it would honor the extension granted by the second housing authority was contrary to law.

NMLA’s client is now in the process of getting her voucher secured in her new city, where she has already found a house to rent. Hopefully, the Court’s decision will inspire housing authorities to follow the law regarding reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and to begin to practice a housing-first policy.

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