Thousands Of N.H. Renters Are Waiting for Relief With Federal Eviction Protections Set To Expire
About 6,000 people have sought help through New Hampshire’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program. But about half of them are still waiting to find out if they’ll receive any relief, according to the latest available data.
UPDATE, June 17, 4 P.M: “It’s just a manpower issue unfortunately,” Gov. Sununu said, when asked about NHPR’s reporting on the backlog at a press conference Thursday. “It has been a challenge, and we’re going to move them as fast as we possibly can.”
With a federal eviction moratorium set to expire in two weeks, New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority Director Dean Christon said he knows there's heightened urgency to make sure those applicants get answers.
“I do know that all of the Community Action agencies are working hard to try to expedite the processing of these applications,” said Christon, whose agency is overseeing the network of Community Action Partnerships responsible for processing the applications.
New Hampshire’s rental assistance program launched in March with the goal of helping people at risk of housing instability or homelessness pay their rent or utilities. People can apply for help covering the costs of 12 to 15 months of past-due or future bills, depending on their situation.
[For more details on New Hampshire’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program and how to apply for help, check out this page.]
So far, according to Christon, about $18 million dollars has been distributed to about 3,000 households, though he said those numbers could be a bit out of date.
Some rental assistance applications are processed relatively quickly, he said, while others can take longer. There are strict rules about eligibility requirements and what kind of expenses the program can help pay for, he said, and it can take time to gather all of the necessary verification.
“In some cases, it’s paying multiple vendors on behalf of a single client,” he added. “So they may be getting paid for back rent and/or prospective rent, and they're also getting payments made to, in some cases, multiple utility providers.”
(Related from NPR: Millions Could Face Eviction With Federal Moratorium Ending And A Logjam In Aid)
Some of the busier Community Action Partnership offices have hired more people specifically to handle rental assistance applications, Christon said. Some of the agencies are also trying other new approaches to the backlog, including providing more regular status updates to applicants.
Several regional Community Action Partnership programs contacted by NHPR for this story said they were unable to talk about the emergency rental assistance program because they have been instructed to direct media inquiries to the state.
Elliot Berry, with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said he knows lots of people at the state and local level are working hard to make sure people get the help they need. This is a complex, relatively new relief program, but still, he’s worried about that pile of unresolved applications.
"The bottom line is, a lot of people are in the queue,” Berry said. “And people get pretty nervous about that, with evictions pending."
If someone’s still waiting to hear back on their rental relief application, Berry said there’s a few important things to know:
- Anyone who’s facing eviction while waiting for rental relief should make sure to alert their assigned caseworker at their local Community Action Partnership. If possible, he said, make sure to let them know the date of any upcoming eviction hearing.
- People with pending evictions and pending rental relief applications should also try to file a motion to postpone their eviction hearing until they get a decision on their relief application, Berry said.
- If a landlord isn’t cooperating with the verification process, Community Action Partnership agencies are allowed to just cut a check for rental relief directly to the tenant instead. “Then it becomes cash the tenant can use to pay the rent, just like any other source of funds,” Berry said.
- Every New Hampshire town is required by law to have a welfare program, which might also be able to help. “For people who are not eligible for whatever reason, or are really up against it, their municipal welfare office is a really important resource to to contact,” Berry said.
As the expiration date on the federal government’s eviction moratorium approaches, the state says it’s also taking steps to help protect people whose applications aren’t yet processed.
“We have been and we will continue to provide information to the court system, to make sure they're aware that people are in process, if that needs to be the case, if the eviction moratorium is lifted,” Christon said. “But I think the primary goal here will be to, obviously, try to turn applications as quickly as [they] possibly can be.”