More families could lose their homes this fall without the return of the $600-per-month enhanced unemployment benefits and easier access to rental assistance from the state, housing advocates said during a roundtable last week.
In each of the last two weeks, New Hampshire courts have reported more evictions than in the weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began, said Elliot Berry, an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Aid. He said he feared the end of the federal and state moratoriums on evictions, and the end of the higher unemployment payments will mean more people lose their homes. Berry said landlords had to file new 30-day eviction notices after the moratoriums ended, and predicted a spike in evictions come September.
“I feel like we’re holding our breath right now, and waiting for the next thing to happen,” said Ben Frost, managing director of policy and public affairs for the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, during the roundtable convened by Rep. Annie Kuster’s office.
Gov. Chris Sununu set aside $35 million, from the state’s $1.25 billion portion of federal CARES Act money, for rental assistance. Local community action agencies like Southern New Hampshire Services and Southwestern Community Services, were charged with managing applications and distributing funds.
The program began July 1. As of last week, agencies had distributed $1 million of the $35 million fund, said John Manning, CEO of Southwestern Community Services.
Manning said the state wanted applicants to prove they had lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and wanted applicants to show they had higher expenses by providing copies of utility bills, for example, he said. Manning said he saw applicants getting discouraged by the long application, or unable to access the online forms, but said he hoped the state was moving toward a more accessible form.
Berry said he thought a simpler application would help. He said he has heard from renters who have received eviction notices and tried to apply for the funding but have not been able to complete the process.
As of Aug. 13, Berry said, more than 4,000 people had inquired about getting that housing aid, but just 429 people had completed the applications.
“We have to find a way to simplify that process,” Berry said.
“The state’s been working really hard with us to come up with a plan that works,” Manning said, adding that the state has recently approved a simplified application, and community action agencies have been working more closely with applicants.
The money is getting out faster now, Manning said, but he said he expects more need in the weeks and months to come.
On Aug. 18, Sununu applied for a temporary increase of additional $300 per week, to be paid for with federal money from FEMA, after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that will allow some FEMA money to be used for unemployment benefits.
Sununu has said it will take a few weeks to get the extra money to unemployed people in New Hampshire, though he said the higher payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1. FEMA has yet to approve New Hampshire’s application to the program.
Median rent in the Manchester area is $1,400 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, and just over $1,500 per month in Nashua.