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NH News

Slow pace of COVID rental assistance spotlighted at session with Shaheen

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Adam Drapcho
/
The Laconia Daily Sun
Lakes Region Community Developers Executive Director Carmen Lorentz, left, discusses challenges their clients face in the current housing market. She is shown here with U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen

LACONIA — COVID has had a serious impact on many people’s ability to stay afloat financially. One of the biggest challenges is the ability to pay for housing.

“The need (for assistance) is overwhelming,” Carmen Lorentz, executive director of Lakes Region Community Developers told U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, during a listening session hosted by the agency. “There is demand at all levels — low income, and moderate income,” Lorentz said.

A big part of the problem is that it can take months to get money to help people impacted by COVID to stay in their homes or apartments, even when those people qualify for help.

“It’s taking longer for assistance to reach those who need it,” Lorentz told the senator as she explained some of the hurdles that those applying for assistance can face as they navigate the system.

Payments were being made timely up until November but the process has slowed down significantly since then, she said.

“There are some who applied in November who are still waiting,” Lorentz said, adding she was unsure whether the delay is due to bureaucracy or because of the surge caused by the Omicron variant.

Shaheen said the state should be taking steps so that those who qualify for help get the assistance faster that is the case now.

“My concern is the money hasn’t gone out as quickly as it needs to,” the senator said. “We need to get that money out the door and if there are changes that need to be made, we should do that. But let's work together.”

Lorentz said COVID has been especially hard on those who do not have the option to work remotely, and so if they have tested positive for the virus, or have been exposed to someone who has, then they have to miss work and so do not get paid.

When that happens, people fall behind, not with just their rent, but other expenses as well — utility bills and car payments, Lorentz said.

“They get behind in everything,” she said.

Shaheen said she is troubled that people are having trouble obtaining assistance through the state when there are ample funds available. She said the state currently has $680 million in unobligated federal funding that has not been used.

Gov. Chris Sununu believes that the federal government should give states more flexibility how how it uses the COVID relief funds for rental assistance — not just to pay for security deposits, late fees, but to support affordable housing as well.

“(W)e believe this funding will have a much greater and longer-term positive impact on the state's working families if we are allowed to invest in our most critical housing related expense - the increase in building costs due to the pandemic," Sununu wrote Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. "The housing shortage continues to put upward pressure on rents, further limiting affordable housing options for Granite Staters."

Since it launched last March, New Hampshire Emergency Rental Assistance Program has expended $66 million to help more than 9,000 New Hampshire households remain in their homes by making payments to property owners and utility companies, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

Lorentz said that since January of last year, about $250,000 in rental assistance has been provided to Community Developer clients who have qualified.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 

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