ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Whether you’re renting or buying, more New Mexicans may soon qualify for affordable housing in dozens of communities across the state. Lawmakers gave a key agency the green light to change the rules around how much money a household can make to qualify for assistance.

The approval came Thursday for the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA) for a major shift in how the agency administers New Mexico’s Affordable Housing Act. “We propose to revise the definition of ‘persons of very low, low, or moderate-income’ to include households making up to 150 percent of area median income,” said Julie Halbig, director of compliance and initiatives with the MFA.

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That new 150 percent threshold is a big change: old rules say households can only make up to 120 percent of an area’s median income to qualify for housing help. The MFA hopes by raising the income limit, more people will qualify for affordable housing support—like down payment assistance or moving into affordable rental units.

“Maybe now a nurse or a policeman that could not qualify to go into these developments in the past, now with the higher income limits they will be eligible to move into those. So that’s what the income limit changes do,” said Isidoro Hernandez, executive director and CEO of the MFA.

The changes to the area median income rules, or AMI, are determined by county. For example, in Bernalillo County, the AMI is about $86,000. With the change, a household could make up to $129,000 and still be eligible for housing support.

“You need to put that in the context then of what is the average median home price that’s up for sale in that county; and we know, for example in Bernalillo County I think it’s $340,000,” Halbig said.

“We want to be flexible by county and by community and so these changes will definitely take that into account because we know we have many diverse pockets in our state of the housing situation and so this will really, we hope, address those unique situations in various parts of our state,” Halbig said.

Halbig said 36 counties and municipalities around the state that are considered compliant with the Affordable Housing Act would have the option to raise the income threshold. The change also allows the MFA to further adjust the income limit to accommodate high cost areas around the state. “We, again, are trying to get people in the position that they can purchase their first home,” Halbig said.

The amendment passed the Legislative Oversight Committee unanimously. Thursday’s changes don’t effect income limits for federal affordable housing programs, but rather only to non-federal unrestricted funds. The MFA Board of Directors must make a final vote to ratify the changes.