N.H. Community Faces Affordable Housing Squeeze Amid Pandemic Pressures | New Hampshire Public Radio

N.H. Community Faces Affordable Housing Squeeze Amid Pandemic Pressures

Mar 25, 2020

Rutland Manor Apartments in Dover
Credit apartments.com

Seacoast nonprofits say dozens of families could be in jeopardy if a Dover rental complex decides to stop providing publicly subsidized housing next year.

The owners of the 50-unit Rutland Manor Apartments recently told tenants that they won’t be renewing their federal Section 8 housing contract in April 2021, according to Foster’s Daily Democrat.

In a phone conversation with NHPR, a lawyer for the property’s owners – affordable housing developer EquiVise – said he couldn’t immediately give an on-record interview.

But he says EquiVise would prefer not to move the property to market rate rent. Instead, he says, they hope to renegotiate the federal contract and remain subsidized. If the property did go to market rate, the lawyer says tenants would receive their own Section 8 vouchers and might be able to stay or move to subsidized housing elsewhere.

Local advocates like Betsey Andrews Parker, the CEO of the Strafford County Community Action Partnership, say there is next to no subsidized housing in the immediate area.

She’s worried about what may happen at Rutland Manor – especially because of the toll that COVID-19 is already taking on at-risk families.

“We know we’ve seen a huge increase in people accessing our food pantries,” she says. “To add on 50 families who were stably housed, who have now had their lives upended – it does present more of a crisis.”

She says moving, even a year from now, would be traumatic and expensive for families whose finances are already strained and whose kids are settled into local schools.

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EquiVise’s attorney stressed that the company would rather keep the property subsidized, that this is the start of a year-long process, and that residents will not be required to move out.

But he acknowledged the possibility the property could convert to market rates, and that tenants’ new Section 8 vouchers wouldn’t fully cover that rent – forcing them to relocate.

Either way, Parker says, those tenants will now endure months of uncertainty while dealing with a public health and economic crisis. In the meantime, she says more of their neighbors may be searching for affordable housing due to virus-related layoffs and pay cuts.

“Any landlords in the Dover area that have considered taking Section 8, I really stress that this is the time, right now, to step forward,” Parker says.

She says her group is hearing from many residents who’ve never used their services before, and recently lost their income due to coronavirus-related closures. This shift, she says, could strain the region’s already limited affordable housing market.  

Paige Farmer, director of the Seacoast nonprofit Home for All, says the potential loss of a large, long-time stock of Section 8 housing in Rutland Manor will be “even more keenly felt” because of the pandemic.

“[I]t disproportionately affects those folks we are now seeing on the front lines at grocery stores and restaurants, who are among the lower wage workers on the economic spectrum,” Farmer says in an email. “These people are carrying the well-being of communities right now and in return, we have a region and state where they can barely, if at all, afford to live.”

Residents are asked to donate money or supplies to groups like Farmer’s and Parker’s in order to help low-income families weather the pandemic and longer-term economic pressures.