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Language Barriers Limit N.H. Immigrants' Access To Pandemic Eviction Protection

Gabriela Lozada / NHPR
Juan Tema of Manchester talks with Hulda Suazo of the Granite State Organizing Project about the state's rental assistance program.

In advance of the end of the federal eviction moratorium at the end of the month, New Hampshire advocates are working to help the state’s immigrant populations that may fear asking for help with rental assistance.

This week, the Granite State Organizer Project and the Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees launched a new community outreach program.  Representatives knocked on doors and stopped people on the streets of downtown Manchester. Their mission: To share important information about how to avoid getting evicted if people stopped paying their rent due to the pandemic. They collected people’s contact information and promised to call them back to help start an application to help avoid an eviction.

Juan Tema, a Guatemalan immigrant and father of one, was hanging out on his porch when the advocates approached him. He said he stopped working for four months during the pandemic and had to borrow money from his brother to pay his rent after the restaurant where he worked closed. It was the first time he heard about the assistance.

“Maybe this could help me to continue with the plans I have before Covid,” Tema said in Spanish.

Martin Toe of the Granite State Organizing Project says language barriers prevent many immigrants from learning about the state’s rental assistance program. So his team hired bilingual staff to address this problem: Toe focused on immigrants from Africa and Asia, while his partner worked with Spanish speakers.

The advocates work to help solve common problems people face navigating the rental assistance program. Sometimes, people don’t know how to apply or do not have an internet connection. Some don’t get a callback or send the wrong documentation.

Toe says a persistent myth is if the landlord knows a tenant is applying for rental assistance, the landlord can immediately evict you, which isn’t true. He urges people in need to apply.

Toe talked about a recent case of a woman who had to take out a loan for rent.

“She did not want her kids to go homeless,” Toe said.

65% of the state funds available for rental assistance have to be used until the end of the year. The advocates estimate only 15% has been used so far, and if the money isn’t spent before December, they have to return it.

About 3,000 people are currently in line to get help through the rental assistance program, but Toe says that should not discourage others from applying.

Find more information to get rent assistance at the Community Action Partnership of New Hampshire website.

Updated: July 21, 2021 at 7:07 PM EDT
This story was updated on July 21 to clarify what may happen after a tenant applies for housing assistance.
Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.
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