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Some N.H. Cities To Spend More On Motel Assistance

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ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing
/
Flickr/CC

Some New Hampshire cities say they’re spending more on hotel assistance for their most vulnerable residents.

Low vacancy rates, rental turnover and high rents have made it tougher for residents to find permanent housing.

State law requires municipalities to provide financial assistance for basic needs like shelter, rent and utility payments.

Lynne Goodwin, Lebanon’s human services director, says when her office is assisting people facing homelessness, she first calls local shelters to see if they have a spot.

But with reduced capacity because of the pandemic, there are fewer beds available in shelters.

That means cities like Lebanon are putting up more people in local motels, Goodwin said.

In 2019, the city spent about $6,000 in motel assistance. Last year, that rose to about $70,400, and about $18,000 of that was reimbursed through the CARES Act.

“Some of the challenge is that even when we provided the temporary emergency housing had to stay in a motel longer than necessary due to having difficulty finding permanent housing,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin says that trend isn't showing signs of slowing down. The city has already spent about $20,673 in motel assistance in the first quarter of 2021.

With the CDC eviction moratorium, and last year’s state and federal moratoriums, Goodwin says there’s been a lack of turnover in rental properties.

“The moratorium on evictions was a blessing for many, many households that didn't have to fear being evicted for nonpayment of rent,” she said. “But it also meant that households that were looking for housing didn't have the stock that they might normally have to choose from.”

And if there was a vacancy, it’d be snatched up quickly. Landlords now have many more applicants to choose from for the units they have available.

The city of Keene started providing hotel assistance in 2019. Natalie Darcy, Keene’s human services director, says she also saw an increase in 2020, particularly during the winter.

She says there are public housing options, but not enough.

“The housing that is available is so expensive, that many of our clients can’t either afford it, or they can’t pass the background checks to get into it. So they’re basically left homeless and needing hotel assistance,” she said.

“Lack of affordable housing for both families and individuals, and it’s not just in Keene, it’s all over New Hampshire,” said Darcy. “It’s quite frankly terrible.”

Some of the clients Goodwin is working with in Lebanon do have a housing voucher and are looking for apartments. The amount of rent those vouchers cover is based on something known as the Fair Market Rent, set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For all of Grafton County, the fair market rent is $834 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $1,083 for a two-bedroom.

“It’s almost impossible to find a one bedroom unit for that cost [in Lebanon],” Goodwin said. “Typically you’re looking at $950 to $1,000 or more.” 

Two households she’s working with are still in a motel -- with a voucher -- because they can’t find a unit.

“We can't just pass off the increased or we can't just pass off the difference in the rent from the fair market and the market,” she said. “Because that would not make the rent affordable for these households."

Goodwin said there should be a change in those rates for lower Grafton County, which she says is experiencing higher rents.

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