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ABQ city councilor weighs in on failed online landlord registry

Via Flickr

Last week, housing advocates hoping to take an initial stab at Albuquerque’s housing shortage by establishing a basic, online landlord registry were disappointed after an ordinance aiming to do just that failed miserably on a 7-2 vote in City Council.

KUNM sat down with the bill’s sponsor, Albuquerque City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who represents District 7, to talk about why it’s so difficult to regulate the rental industry in New Mexico.

COUNCILOR TAMMY FIEBELKORN: I think the ordinance failed because the landlords, as an industry, are very powerful. I do not understand their power, but they are clearly able to kill any bills around affordable housing, renter protections, any of those things. Last year, there were proposals at the city level, there have been proposals at the state level. And they all died pretty painful deaths.

KUNM: Advocates and even yourself have described this ordinance as this easy, simple solution to start tackling the issue of Albuquerque is housing shortage. What makes it so simple? 

FIEBELKORN: I don't think it was simple. But I do think it was an easy first step to make a plan. To fix a problem you need to kind of know what the problem is. And, we have estimates of how many people are renting in the city of Albuquerque. We have estimates of how many rental units are available. But, we really don't know. Just having an understanding of what the market is, should be the first step in developing programs and policies and incentives to actually improve that market in the future.

KUNM: What is a landlord registry? 

FIEBELKORN: It would literally be an online database where you would go in as a landlord, and you would fill out things like: the address, the number of bedrooms, the square footage… We were asking how much you are going to charge for rent in that unit... Basic, basic pieces of information that would then be available, not to the public, but to the city, so that we could then do some data analysis around what the market looks like. We know what we want the market to look like in the future, and how do we get there?

KUNM: You said it would be private, not public. Why do you make that distinction? 

FIEBELKORN: There were concerns that were voiced really loudly by the landlord industry folks that they didn't want their personal information, their addresses and their phone numbers made public. While I think it's alarming that people are living in units and not knowing how to contact someone if there's a problem, I certainly didn't want to make it so it was a public-facing database where anyone can go in and look up a bunch of phone numbers and email addresses. But we wanted to get that information for the city to be able to do the data analysis. And then also, a really important part would be when the city gets a complaint about something not happening at a unit. I get these calls every single week. "Hey, I've been without air conditioning for two weeks now and it's July."

KUNM: Why do you think our elected officials like the city council in Albuquerque are so hesitant to implement these changes?

FIEBELKORN: If I knew the answer to that, I could potentially create a bill that would actually pass. And so let me just say that it's not just the city council. It is the state legislature. I had asked for a memorial to ask the state legislature to get rid of rent control prohibitions... That went down in flames...

We couldn't even pass the little tenant protection ordinance that I proposed recently that just said, you can charge them whatever you want, but you have to tell them what you're going to charge them before they sign the lease. Even that was very, very threatening to the landlords and didn't pass.

KUNM: How do we begin to address the problem if a simple landlord registry is too difficult for even the city council to implement?

FIEBELKORN: I wish I had a really good answer to this, Bryce. It's painful, because the answer is: we're not. Now, the city and the state and all the other cities around us are focused on a long term solution, which is vital. We must get more housing units in our city. Period.

What are we going to do right now for people who are precariously housed and are on the edge of going homeless? And the answer that I see is absolutely nothing. And that is really frightening. We have to think short-term and long-term. We have to think of ways to keep these folks, who are housed right now, in housing while we wait for this magic bullet of more supply in the future.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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