EXPLAINER: NH tenants await rental aid amid eviction fears
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the 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 more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say 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.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. 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 will get $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. The money can go toward 15 months of rent and other expenses, including internet access. Renters who pay 30% of their income toward rent and have 80% of the area median income qualify. So far, the state estimates it has distributed about $18 million to 3,000 tenants, acknowledging the process has been slowed by federal requirements for a range of documents.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
Eviction hearings in New Hampshire continue to be held remotely, and the CDC moratorium has meant that most 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 Finance Authority, evictions were down in 2020 by about half — to just over 2,000 statewide. They dropped to several hundred so far in 2021.
HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL 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. Vacancy rates were less than 2% before the pandemic, far below the national average. One factor for is pandemic-related delays in building more multi-family homes.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
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 June showing 11,882 state residents concerned that they could face eviction over the next two months.