After a spate of gruesome killings in Albuquerque’s homeless population this year, the City Council moved last week to pass a small but unique new tax to fund increased services for homeless individuals.
On August 18th, the Council approved bill O-14-14, which adds an excise tax of one-eighth of one percent on gross receipts in the city. The ordinance passed by a slim 5-4 margin and now heads to Mayor Richard Berry’s (R) desk, who must decide whether to sign or veto the legislation.
The measure, which was first introduced in April, received renewed attention this month after two homeless individuals were brutally murdered in the city by three teenagers in July. Though appalling, these acts aren’t entirely unique to New Mexico: Murders of homeless people aren’t classified as a hate crime by federal law, but if they were, the number of anti-homeless attacks would be larger than all other hate crimes in the country combined.
If enacted, Albuquerque’s ordinance would raise an estimated $16 million for increased homelessness services, according to Indian Country Today. Half of the revenue is designated to provide new support programs for homeless and similarly at-risk populations, such as mental health services. The other half is set aside for “capital improvements for the benefit of the citizens of Albuquerque.”
According to Mary Brooks, Director of the Housing Trust Fund Project for the Center for Community Change, an excise tax specifically to raise money for homeless services is “rare though not unheard of.” Only a small handful of other cities, such as St. Paul, Minnesota, have taken similar steps. “It’s tremendous what Albuquerque is doing,” Brooks told ThinkProgress.
Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, agreed. “We applaud the city for proposing an excise tax to support homeless and housing services,” he said. “We hope this tax is approved and emulated by other cities nationwide.”
A 2013 count found 1,170 homeless people living in Albuquerque, 70 percent of whom are Native Americans, according to Indian Country Today. Though that number was a sharp drop from the 1,639 homeless people counted in 2011, homelessness in Albuquerque has generated national news on multiple occasions this year. In addition to the July murders of Al Gorman and Kee Thompson, police shot a homeless man, James Boyd, in the back four months earlier, killing him on the spot. Boyd, who was camping in the foothills when he was confronted by police, was believe to be suffering from schizophrenia.