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My Turn: Shutdown puts many at risk of homelessness

The news of the government shutdown has brought to light the many roles of government and the adverse consequences a nonfunctioning government has on all of us. It’s a wakeup call to many who erroneously believed that they live their lives exclusively within the private sector, oblivious to the supportive partnership role that makes our country stronger, safer, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous.

The government’s role in supporting the housing market is vital, and many took note of this during the foreclosure crisis. What many may not realize, however, is that the government’s role is also crucial for the rental housing market.

Almost a third of New Hampshire residents are renters, and most of them struggle with housing security and affordability. The decline in the home ownership market resulted in cost increases in the rental market. As demand increased, supply decreased and costs climbed. Median monthly rents in New Hampshire are now $1,018, up 9.7 percent since 2006. A family must earn $20.47 an hour to afford an average two-bedroom rental in New Hampshire and still have enough left over for food, transportation, health care and other necessities.

Right now, New Hampshire’s lowest-income families risk losing a place to call home. We need to add another 26,000 units of affordable housing to accommodate families making less than $40,000 a year. As it stands, 67,000 of these families are paying 50 percent or more of their income just to stay housed, and they’re living paycheck to paycheck.

While housing advocates should be talking with policy-makers on making progress to develop more affordable housing for the thousands of New Hampshire residents who need it, we are forced instead to unveil the latest and perhaps, most drastic of crises: The 9,000 families who receive rental assistance vouchers in New Hampshire face the real possibility that their landlords won’t receive the government’s share of their November rent payment. No HUD means no rental assistance. No rental assistance means low-wage earners can’t make rent. No rent means eviction notices. No rent means landlords can’t pay banks their mortgages. You get the picture.

This is not an academic exercise on the role of government. This is very real.

In as little as 30 days, New Hampshire’s low-income seniors, disabled and families with children may be at risk of homelessness. Thousands of private landlords may be without rent checks.

When Congress gets it together and turns the lights back on, New Hampshire will still have a very real affordable housing problem. Let’s hope we don’t have a humanitarian crisis on our hands too.

(Elissa Margolin is director of Housing Action NH.)

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