Alibi V.29 No.29 • July 16-22, 2020 

News Feature

Local Organizer Evicted During Moratorium

Lack of information makes eviction moratorium confusing for tenants and landlords

Clarke Condé

Last Monday, July 6, local community organizer Selinda Guerrero and her family were evicted from their home, during what is supposed to be an eviction moratorium in New Mexico due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guerrero is one of the lead organizers of Albuquerque Mutual Aid, which began operating at the start of the pandemic to deliver food, household goods and personal protective equipment to families struggling during quarantine.

Guerrero live streamed the encounter with her landlord, Peter Dunlap, and two officers from the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office on her Facebook page. At the time of the encounter, volunteers with Albuquerque Mutual Aid were packing and delivering donations to at-risk families out of Guerrero’s garage. Dunlap is recorded saying, “You can’t run a business out of here,” when Guerrero asks for more time to get the deliveries out. Albuquerque Mutual Aid is not a for-profit business, but a volunteer project of Fight For Our Lives, a youth-led grassroots activist organization.

“What happened before the livestream was—the sheriffs walked in without knocking, they went into my children’s rooms and said, ‘You have 15 minutes to get all your things and leave.’ ” She clarified that her front door was open to let some air in. “The [sheriff’s officer] recommended I drop my kids off at Westside Emergency Housing Center. That's a suggestion that I can’t be a mother to my children because I’m poor.”

“They started getting a lot nicer when I said I was live streaming it, and that elected officials follow my feed,” Guerrero says.

Because of an appeal that Guerrero had made earlier that morning to the eviction court, she was able to get an extension until 5pm on the following day. Dozens of volunteers with Albuquerque Mutual Aid and members of the community showed up at Guerrero’s house immediately after the encounter to help her move all her and her children’s belongings into a storage space. She also secured a safe place for her and her family to stay for the following two weeks.

Since Guerrero moved out, Albuquerque Mutual Aid has been able to operate out of the Southwest Organizing Project’s headquarters and has continued delivering care packages to families in need.

Misinformation or lack of information about the eviction moratorium is a problem for both tenants and landlords in the current unprecedented legal climate due to the pandemic.

The Weekly Alibi spoke with Tom Prettyman, managing attorney at New Mexico Legal Aid, a civil legal advocacy organization that represents low-income people in New Mexico, about the current eviction moratorium. “If a landlord [in New Mexico] receives money under the CARES act—or any federal funding—they might be prevented from evicting during that time,” he said. But not all landlords know this specific rule, and even many landlords that don’t receive federal funding believe they’re legally disallowed to evict tenants until the moratorium expires on August 30.

On the other end, many tenants don’t know the specific requirements involved in being protected from eviction during the moratorium. In Guerrero’s case she didn’t realize that she needed to present written evidence to the court that she couldn’t pay her rent during the pandemic to prevent being evicted. That said, even knowing this information and presenting the required evidence might not have helped her. As Prettyman says, “When tenants are evicted, the vast majority either pay up [the rent they owe] or move out. Or they choose to fight it in court, and when they fight it in court they lose. Tenants lose. It’s kind of the rule.”

“If this was a real tool that the courts were trying to use, then they would have been sending out this information [about requiring evidence of inability to pay] to families that were being evicted,” Guerrero says, emphasizing that she wasn’t aware of the written evidence requirement. Her landlord had provided her with some printed resources a few weeks prior to the eviction, she says. However, “It was a list of homeless shelters in the area,” not any information about this requirement.

Guerrero’s family was participating in the rent strike that many across the country took part in during the pandemic, insisting that there be a stay on rent and mortgage payments during such an unprecedented time of economic hardship. Her family also lost three of their five income sources during the pandemic, making paying rent difficult at the very least.

One of those incomes was lost when Guerrero’s husband, Clifton White, was arrested after a Black Lives Matter protest in late May. White was charged with violation of parole—although the arrest warrant was never actually signed by White’s parole officer—and he is still being held at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas.

“Our governor, in several press conferences, has said there’s a moratorium on evictions. So there’s an entire community out here that believes there’s a moratorium on evictions,” Guerrero says.

“It’s not really a moratorium, but a stay on evictions,” says Prettyman. “If the tenant loses, the judge says, ‘You’ve lost, but I’m going to stay the eviction until the supreme court says evictions are happening again.’ ” Currently, this stay is in place until August 31.

“We’re expecting a big rush of evictions after the moratorium ends,” Prettyman warns.

For Guerrero and her family, threat of eviction won’t be a problem for much longer. After the eviction she and several community members were able to work together to put the down payment on a house.

“This 25 years of hope and dreams is finally coming true. That just happened yesterday. The amount on the note is one third of what we were paying at [the previous rental property]. For a four bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house… If we had had access to home ownership, I would have been able to buy a house five times over with what I’ve paid in rent and late fees and moving fees. We’ve never paid less than 1,200 a month in rent. For a family that lives in poverty, that is very difficult to pull off. I’ve had five jobs at once to pay rent. And my story is not unique. So when we talk about the underlying issues of poverty, housing insecurity is absolutely at the forefront of that.”

Guerrero says she’s grateful to the members of the community who have helped to make home buying possible for her, and that she’s looking forward to the security of owning a home. “My children can decide what color they want to paint their rooms. My daughter is thinking about the garden she wants to plant,” she says. “We’re so grateful, so grateful. So many thousands of others don’t have that support.”