New Hampshire’s coronavirus-prompted moratorium on evictions expires Wednesday, set to be tailgated by the end of $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits the week of July 25.
Meanwhile, the latest U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey indicates more than 30% of renter respondents have no or little confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent payment.
A recent analysis by a Columbia University economist estimates a 40 to 45% increase in homelessness by the end of 2020 – approximately 250,000 Americans.
Martha Stone, executive director at Cross Roads House, Portsmouth’s homeless shelter, said her organization, which has more than 100 people on its wait list, is bracing for the end of the eviction moratorium.
“We’re all keeping an eye on the situation,” she said.
While the Granite State’s eviction moratorium will end this week, Gov. Chris Sununu created a Housing Relief Program that will provide one-time grants – up to $2,500 – for past-due rent and utilities from April 1, 2020, on for households that lost income or saw increased household expenses as a result of COVID-19. The grants can also be used for additional one-time housing expenses that could place an individual or family in jeopardy if left unpaid.
Sununu allocated $35 million in federal CARES Act funding to create the relief program, which will be disbursed by the state’s five community action programs, including those in Rockingham and Strafford counties. Those applying for housing relief grants will be required to work with a case manager.
“We are concerned that when expanded unemployment benefits come to an end, some owners and renters will experience significant financial stress,” said Dean Christon, New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority executive director, in the organization’s June-July housing market snapshot. “This will come at about the same time that the evictions and foreclosure moratoria will end. The potential confluence of these factors – in addition to the ongoing public health crisis – may have a negative impact on the market in the future.”
The housing snapshot pegged New Hampshire with a 14.5% seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for May, higher than the national and New England averages.
Russ Thibeault, an economist for Applied Economic Research, said the pain of the economic downturn is not spread evenly across all income and age cohorts, as it disproportionately impacts lower-wage workers in the retail, restaurants and lodging sectors.
“Many of those who couldn’t find an affordable place to live before the downturn hit find their housing situation even worse today,” he said.
Todd Marsh, the city of Rochester’s welfare director and vice chair of the Tri-City Fidelity Committee, said it appears many of the initiatives designed to maintain basic necessities during the pandemic – including the stimulus checks, increased unemployment amounts and eviction moratoriums – have been largely effective to date.
However, he said, “the inevitable ending of these temporary initiatives will cause life-living difficulties for many. How many, by how much and how long we will not know until we have the benefit of time to assess.”
The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, included a 120-day moratorium on evictions for tenants in federally assisted housing or homes with federally backed mortgages. Those protections are set to expire July 25.
But public housing leaders on the Seacoast say their residents most impacted by COVID-19 are protected by adjusted rents.
“If you live in a public housing apartment or you have a Section 8 voucher, you’re in good circumstances (amid this pandemic) because the rent you pay is based upon your income,” said Portsmouth Housing Authority Executive Director Craig Welch.
Welch said the PHA, which has a current wait list of approximately 700 individuals and families, is “pretty much where we usually are in terms of rent in arrears.”
“We’ve made lot of effort to make sure that people who have had changes in their income report them immediately and that we process those immediately so their rent is adjusted right away,” he said. “We don’t anticipate we’re going to see the kind of tidal wave that most private property managers are likely to experience. We do whatever we can to prevent non-payment related evictions.”
Dover Housing Authority Executive Director Allan Krans said they are specifically trying to avoid evictions and don’t anticipate a surge because of their efforts thus far.
“Our housing officers have spent the last several months lowering rents since many of our residents were laid off due to COVID,” he said.
Krans said the $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits is not counted as income as it was deemed “sporadic income” by federal officials.
“So the bottom line is many of our residents have lower rent, so they are able to keep up,” he said. “We have also protected our Section 8 landlords who house our clients by increasing the federal subsidy for Section 8 landlords whose tenants have lost income.”
Stone said Cross Roads is working to maintain a shelter capacity that will allow it to meet the needs of the community when more demand arises. The Lafayette Road shelter is operating with a reduced number of residents while the nearby Port Inn and Suites is being used as a “decompression site” to house additional residents and create more space.
“We don’t know what’s coming, but what we are hearing is there could be a surge in demand for shelter,” Stone said.
Stone said Cross Roads each year sees an uptick in demand as winter approaches.
“Now we’re facing the weather challenges that we do every year, and on top of that an extraordinary high unemployment rate and people who may experience housing challenges that they never have before,” Stone said. “I think it’s worth noting that even without a pandemic and this high unemployment rate, we already have huge demands in our state for people experiencing homelessness.”
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul food pantry in Exeter said last week it expects a “tidal wave” of need when the eviction moratorium is lifted.
“We have major concerns when the eviction ban lifts because for many of our clients their problems have snowballed for months and months,” said Executive Director Molly Zirillo. “Exeter has a vacancy rate of 1% at any price point and all the homeless shelters are at max capacity because of the pandemic. We need to try to keep people secure where they are.”
“We have no idea what tomorrow brings. I think the worst is yet to come in this country,” said Deb Anthony, executive director of Portsmouth-based Gather food pantry.
Anthony said the pantry, the largest hunger relief organization on the Seacoast, continues to increase its mobile markets to “meet people where they are.” Because of that, Gather is serving approximately 2,400 more individuals and families than it normally does.
“I think we’re going to see an uptick again,” Anthony said. “And I worry a lot for people because I think when people have had that safety net, and it’s a significant safety net for people making $15 an hour…all of a sudden when that leaves, I think you’re going to see a big vacuum and there’s going to be some desperation.”