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Will New Hampshire do enough to limit evictions?

  • On Oct. 14, 2020, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire. AP file

Associated Press
Published: 7/30/2021 3:57:36 PM

A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after President Joe Biden’s administration extended the original date by a month.

The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.

Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in New Hampshire:

What’s the status of eviction moratoriums in the state?

New Hampshire is one of several states that enacted a moratorium last year halting eviction proceedings. The measure expired last summer, leaving only the CDC moratorium. The state also has a measure requiring landlords to give tenants 30 days to pay back rent, up from the previous seven days. But that measure applies only to unpaid rent during a short stretch of 2020 — form March 17 to June 11.

What’s being done to help people facing eviction?

New Hampshire is getting $352 million in federal money to help tenants with outstanding rent, utility payments and other expenses. Last year, it dedicated $20 million from the federal CARES Act and ended up providing $15.6 million to 4,611 tenants. It reallocated the remaining money to other programs.

This year, the state has begun allocating $180 million in federal emergency rental assistance. Rockingham County was allocated an additional $20 million. Renters who pay 30% of their income toward rent and have 80% of the area median income qualify. So far, the state has approved 4,116 applications for $26.6 million in assistance. Most of it goes to rent but there was money approved for utilities, home heating and internet.

How are the courts handling hearings?

New Hampshire now has a mix of remote and in-person eviction hearings, though the CDC moratorium has meant that many eviction lawsuits have been stayed. But Stephen Tower, a staff attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said some district courts have been allowing eviction lawsuits to proceed while staying a ruling until after the moratorium ends. As a result, evictions dropped dramatically in 2020 and so far in 2021. According to the New Hampshire Housing, evictions were down in 2020 by about half — to just over 2,000 statewide. They dropped to several hundred so far in 2021.

The court system has also launched a pilot program in two cities aimed at helping keep eviction cases out of the court. It is hoping to eventually expand that program statewide.

How affordable is housing in the major markets?

New Hampshire has long had one of the country’s tightest rental housing markets, driven in part by a strong economy, rising demand for housing and a shortage of affordable housing. From 2015 to 2020, rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased 22%, according to the state finance authority.

The rent survey released in July found this year’s statewide median gross rent including utilities of $1,498 for two-bedroom units is up 6% over 2020. Rents have increased in each of the past eight years. Vacancy rates dropped to 0.9%, far below the national average of 6.8%. One factor for is pandemic-related delays in building more multi-family homes.

Is homelessness expected to surge?

It’s hard to say how much homelessness will increase in New Hampshire. Tower, of New Hampshire Legal Assistance, expects both evictions and eviction lawsuits to spike after the moratorium lifts. One indication of the scope of the problem is census data from early July showing that 20,956 tenants were very likely or somewhat likely to face eviction over the next two months.

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