In a move that can only be interpreted as an attempt to kill it, Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambé, has taken a bill that would remake the state’s troubled affordable housing system off the calendar in one committee and moved it to another committee that killed a similar bill on Sunday.
That’s the committee that on Sunday tabled, on a vote of 6-5, House Bill 997, sponsored by Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, which was a mirror of Papen’s bill. Arnold-Jones’ bill was tabled after Lujan spoke with at least two members of the committee privately during the public hearing.
Those pushing for the housing authority overhaul suspected all along that Lujan would attempt to kill the proposal. Michael Henningsen, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, said that appears to be exactly what’s happening.
“The overall impression we’re getting is that this bill is following in the footsteps of Rep. Arnold-Jones’ bill,” he said.
Lujan, who has sole control over bills’ committee assignments in the House, couldn’t be reached for comment. The office of Gov. Bill Richardson, who has endorsed the bill, had no immediate comment.
Papen had no comment today, but on Sunday said she was “terribly disappointed” that Arnold-Jones’ bill was tabled.
Papen’s bill would, over a period of several months, shut down the state’s scandal-plagued regional housing authorities and replace them with a system overseen by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. Denish, as a member of the MFA board, has been a champion of the bill.
The bill would also provide for audits of each of the seven housing authority regions to determine the extent of the mismanagement first revealed last year when Frances Williams, a member of the Las Cruces-based Region VII board, complained about problems. Several weeks after she went public, the Region III authority, based in
Williams decried today the move by Lujan, noting that much of the state currently has no affordable housing program because some of the regional housing authorities have shut down.
“I think this is absolutely shameful,” she said. “It smacks of some sort of collusion. How could you not want to pass a bill that would provide housing for low- and moderate-income people?”
The housing authority scandal has been a hot potato in the Legislature because of the relationship between Lujan and former Region III Housing Authority Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos. Gallegos is a former legislator and current lobbyist who, in past sessions, has spent a lot of time in the speaker’s office.
Among the scandals that have plagued the housing authority was the disclosure late last year that a top aide to Lujan, who may not qualify for low-income housing, had been living rent-free in a home owned by the Region III authority. After the situation was revealed by the Albuquerque Journal, the aide paid back rent. She continues to live in the home.
Lujan has said he didn’t know about the situation until a reporter told him about it.
The attorney general’s office is conducting a widespread investigation of the housing authority scandal. Some suspect Lujan is opposed to Papen’s bill because of the funding it would provide for audits.