Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.

© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES      6/14/21
Slackers who stop paying rent without asking for help hurt everyone 
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            An elderly couple finds it’s time to downsize and move into a smaller home, maybe a townhouse. Instead of selling their house, they decide to rent it. That way, they have some income and can still leave the house to their children when they pass on.
            Enter Covid and the freeze on evictions for nonpayment of rent. When the federal government acted to protect unemployed renters who can’t pay their rent, it was necessary and well intended. Nobody wanted to see people thrown on the streets on top of the economic mayhem already unfolding.
            New Mexico got $170 million to fund its Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which can provide up to 12 months of rent and utility payments for people slammed by Covid. This includes current and future rent as well as back rent. (See or call 1-833-485-1334.) By last week, the program had paid out nearly $3 million.
            Applicants must prove they’re renters with either a lease agreement, a letter from the landlord, bank statements or canceled checks. They must demonstrate financial hardship because of Covid. If they’re applying for help with back rent, they must document the amount they’re behind. They must verify income or unemployment status for adult household members, as well as total household income for 2020 or current monthly household income. They must prove their risk of homelessness with a notice of delinquency, notice of termination, eviction notice or signed self-certification.
            For some people, this is too much trouble.
            An unintended consequence of renter protection is that some renters, armed with the knowledge that they can’t be evicted, simply stopped paying rent. The owner is still on the hook for property repairs and maintenance, taxes, mortgage payments, and utilities. If they go to court to get an eviction, that’s another expense. Whether they’re individuals with one property or companies with hundreds of units, nobody can stay afloat with no revenue coming in.
            Ten percent of tenants aren’t paying rent even though they’re able, according to Chuck Sheldon, a corporate owner in Albuquerque. In an op ed he complains that judges have handed down decisions favoring renters, who can walk away without paying.
            Another landlord, a retiree with two units that he depends on for income, reported that the governor’s eviction protection applied to renters who were already behind in their rent when the pandemic began. To receive help, they must apply.
            “My tenants are not interested in applying and will simply leave when the eviction moratorium is lifted,” he wrote.
            Landlords, like their tenants, may not understand the whole picture. According to the program website, owners can apply for help on behalf of their tenants. Money is paid directly to landlords, but they must submit a W9 to the state Department of Finance and Administration. Program managers have said that a frequent holdup is that landlords haven’t completed their part of the application.
            Some landlords apparently think the money is only available for tenants receiving a writ, and judges are reluctant to grant a writ, but the website clarifies what documentation is required.
            On June 30 the moratorium ends, and Sheldon fears “tenants will be evicted at alarming rates, courts will become overwhelmed and owners will continue fighting to hold onto their maltreated properties.”
            Any renter who’s burned a landlord by willfully not paying rent is hurting themselves and other renters. Available rentals are already tight in many areas. Owners could add qualifications for prospective renters and even raise rents to make up for losses. Our elderly couple could decide that being a landlord is more trouble than it’s worth and sell their home. The supply of housing could shrink.
            Tenants and owners should take advantage of this funding. 

Sherry Robinson photo

© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    6/14/21
Invented words for big media and intellectuals confuse the rest of us
By Harold Morgan

New Mexico Progress
A crew of gnomes—small malevolent elves—works in a dark corner of the lowest sub-basement of the New York Times office. They create words and word uses to confuse us. The gnomes have branch plants at the Washington Post and public television.
The words magically go to the clerisy, that loose web of talking heads, pundits, news anchors, politicos, intellectuals, and others such that comprise the commentariat shaping our public dialogue. Some carry a political agenda; I discussed “disproportionate” here a year ago. Others are just awkward, disrupting the reader or listener and blocking comprehension.
Languages evolve; I’m not resisting change, just seeking a little clarity.
“Per” appeared recently. Stories say, “per this” or “per that.” My online dictionary says this context means, “in accordance with.”  A recent legal advertisement even used “per” to say the project was “per” the specifications at a certain agency.
“Too many” or “too much” is a typical use by political types arguing a proposal that supposedly will fix a certain problem. They say that “too many” people are affected by “too much” of the problem. Never, in my experience, has someone posed the obvious follow-up question to seek the politician’s view of the appropriate level of the problem that society should allow to afflict people. The politician didn’t advocate eradicating the problem, just that the extent of the problem should be reduced. Therefore, some would continue to suffer. How many? If asked, the politician would claim the intent is eliminating the problem. But that’s not what the politician said. So the politician is either lying, lazy or sloppy.
“Reach out” has wide acceptance. “Reach out to me,” the phrase goes. But what does that mean? It doesn’t say, “Contact me.” Nor does it say, “Complete the contact with me.” How about, “Call me.” Or, these days, “Text me.”
Turning “gift” from a noun into a verb ranks as one of the more annoying Gnome stunts because of the awkwardness. Try “Gift this to me.” Huh? How about “give.” Or “gave” instead of “gifted.” 
Writing news stories comes with constraints on the number of words. Space for news stories is limited; it must be used judiciously. Loosen the format a bit toward a feature and things happen. To get some lyric flow, writers go with, “a man named John Smith, an accountant.” Or perhaps, “a woman named Josie Martinez, a banker.” The phrase “a man named” is clutter. Sometimes the writer, seeking variety, perhaps, will alternate using “a person named” with simple identification.
“Death by suicide” has become preferable to simple suicide. “Experiencing homelessness” beats “homeless.” One can “experience homelessness” without being homeless. Just go hang out, for the experience, with homeless people for a day or three, and then go home.
Hosts of other words plague us.
“I would ask” or “I would say” are video specialties. A person being interviewed introduces a comment by saying, “I would say (whatever).” But the person doesn’t actually go ahead and say (whatever).
These words combine to confuse me. But then I’m part of society’s least interesting demographic: male, old, bald and white. Further, my group is responsible for everything bad in society. These words and uses split society, creating a code of superiority for those inside the bubble of obscure vocabulary. They also forego the opportunities in the broader society. Victimhood beckons.
In his “Dilbert” comic strip, Scott Adams sometimes mocks made-up pronouns. In the June 1 strip the staff is arrayed around a table. The boss says, “The company policy is to use “they” in place of offensive pronouns. Does anyone have any questions?”
Asok asks, “Anythey?”
Boss responds, “Don’t fight it.”