More emergency rental assistance funding is on its way to New Hampshire, state and federal officials say
A potential crisis for New Hampshire's emergency rental assistance program appears to have been averted.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu disclosed that New Hampshire hadn't received its latest round of requested emergency rental assistance funding, totaling more than $69 million. Without this additional money, Sununu said New Hampshire might have to halt some of its emergency rental assistance grants.
These grants, delivered through two of the major coronavirus relief packages passed by Congress in recent years, are meant to make it easier for people experiencing economic hardship to stay in their homes. The federal government distributes this money to states, territories and local governments, which in turn are supposed to distribute the money to people who need help paying for rental housing or utilities.
The Treasury Department is releasing this funding in phases. According to information provided by the agency this week, New Hampshire has received more than $225 million in combined emergency rental assistance funding to date.
The governor outlined his concerns about the delayed funding in a letter to a top official at the U.S. Treasury Department, which his office made public on Tuesday. The state’s Congressional delegation followed up with their own letter, after Sununu’s letter was publicized, also urging the agency to release the funding.
By Wednesday afternoon, Sununu said he received assurances that the federal government would soon release more of New Hampshire’s emergency rental assistance funding after all. A spokesperson for the Treasury Department separately confirmed to NHPR that the issue was resolved and additional funding was on its way to New Hampshire.
“I was concerned up until today that they might not send the dollars,” Sununu said at a Wednesday press conference. “But at least the first phase of the dollars have come through. And if not, we'll keep working with Senators Hassan and Shaheen or the Congressional delegation to put pressure on the Treasury to make the dollars available.”
New Hampshire distributed at least $100 million in emergency rental assistance to 12,763 households as of Feb. 6, according to New Hampshire Housing, which is overseeing that process.
At the same time, federal data suggests that New Hampshire lagged behind others in getting some of its emergency rental assistance money out the door last year, particularly the ERA1 funding allocated through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, one of two major coronavirus relief packages that distributed emergency rental relief to states and other localities.
Last year, the Treasury Department warned states that it would begin “recapturing dollars from the lowest performers that have been unable or unwilling to speed up assistance” and reallocating that money to “top-performing grantees serving high-needs areas.” States that spent less than 30% of their ERA1 funding as of September 2021 were asked to submit “a Program Improvement Plan.” Based on Treasury Department data, New Hampshire likely would have been subject to that requirement — though neither state nor federal officials have confirmed this detail when asked by NHPR.
More than $2.1 million in emergency rental assistance funding was recently recaptured from Rockingham County, which received its own funding apart from the state, according to the Treasury Department. State and federal officials have not directly responded to questions about why that money was recouped. The Treasury Department has said it would prioritize redirecting money recaptured from state or local governments to eligible grantees in the same state.
Sununu said Wednesday that he was not concerned about New Hampshire’s ability to hold onto its emergency rental funding, now that he secured the latest round from the federal government.
He also said the need for direct rental assistance is not as acute in New Hampshire as in other parts of the country. At the same time, the state has dealt with persistent backlogs in processing the applications it has received. As of Feb. 6, nearly 5,000 applications were awaiting approval; about half of those applications were "currently being processed," according to New Hampshire Housing.
“Rental assistance is not our top need. It’s a need for certain individuals, and it’s there — that’s great,” Sununu said. “But it’s not our top need, in terms of housing. You want to deal with housing, you want to deal with the ability to keep people in their homes and all of that, there’s other ways to do it.”
Sununu has asked the Treasury Department for permission to spend some of New Hampshire’s emergency rental assistance funding on affordable housing projects, rather than on direct relief to tenants and landlords. On Wednesday, he said the federal government seems unlikely to permit that flexibility within this specific pool of funding, but he is exploring whether New Hampshire can use other federal coronavirus relief funding for this purpose.
“I want the flexibility to use those dollars to invest in housing, in actual bricks and mortar multifamily housing for workers,” Sununu said.
State officials did not respond to additional questions from NHPR this week about the steps they’re taking to ensure existing rental relief money is reaching those in need.
A Treasury Department spokesperson told NHPR the agency would like states and local governments to use other kinds of coronavirus relief funds for additional housing relief programs and to enact other policies to prevent evictions.