Lujan moves to kill affordable housing overhaul bill

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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.

Senate Bill 519, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, had been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. Lujan moved the bill today from judiciary to the Business and Industry Committee.

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 Albuquerque, defaulted on $5 million in bonds it owed to the state.

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.

3 thoughts on “Lujan moves to kill affordable housing overhaul bill

  1. All of the Lujan critics may be premature. Think about it. Doesn’t it make sense to have both similar bills from both houses in the same committee so they can be made identical and sent to the floor with a stronger “Do Pass” recommendation. It gets on the floor calendar(a done deal) and quickly(with an emergency clause)on to the governor for signature. Got it?

  2. If the AG had any hard evidence on CRIMINAL behavior an indictment would have been made by now,as for the GOV. strong arming Mr. Lujan,I believe that you may have that upside down as Senator Papen would say.The Gov. wants this to go away as quickly and quietly as possible,after all,who promoted regional housing authorities during his tenure and appointed their Board members as well as hand picked Executive Directors.Hmmm,guess what Senator and ex Board member that’s going to end up as shark bait in the Party in the not to distant future when their 15 minutes of fame are up?

  3. I cannot believe the gall Lujan has in trying to block reforms for a program to which he has serious questions regarding his improper relationships!!! But– I think he has jumped the shark on this one. Only Tom Delay has shown this level of “in your face”, arrogant disregard for the rule of law and the people he represents. Much of the rest of the corrupt behavior we have seen in Congress recently was at least conducted under some false facade of of propriety on the part of those doing it! Hubris, I think they call it…..It’s time for the AG to indict this jerk, and for the Gov to make it clear he will veto something Lujan wants if he doesn’t get a bill out of the Legislature on Housing that he can sign.