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Upper Valley agencies brace for flood of rental assistance requests

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2020 10:02:52 PM
Modified: 7/7/2020 10:02:46 PM

Social service agencies throughout the Upper Valley are preparing to help residents access federal funding for rent and mortgage payments after the monthslong moratoriums on evictions expired this month.

As of July 1, landlords in New Hampshire can now serve eviction notices and collect back rent that was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vermont will follow suit sometime after the state of emergency ends.

Both states have grants — which do not need to be repaid — available through the federal CARES Act. New Hampshire has $35 million to distribute to tenants through its New Hampshire Housing Relief Program. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott recently allocated $25 million in aid for landlords whose tenants cannot pay rent, which will be administered through the Vermont State Housing Authority.

“I think at the beginning people were really worried,” said Pat Burke, family services director for Southeastern Vermont Community Action, or SEVCA, which serves residents in Windsor County and has an office in White River Junction.

Those concerns quieted with the arrival of stimulus checks and unemployment money, including the federal government’s extra $600 weekly allocated in response to COVID-19.

Now with the $600 benefit set to expire at the end of July and the moratoriums being lifted, the calls have started to ramp up again.

“We’re waiting for the tidal wave to come,” Burke said.

New Hampshire’s application process for renters seeking assistance is up at capnh.org while the Vermont program is currently readying to take applications.

In March, Granite United Way established its COVID-19 Relief Fund and partnered with different nonprofit organizations to distribute funds raised from private donors. Locally, the Upper Valley Haven took on that role. So far, the organization has distributed around $63,000 of the $70,000 it is overseeing. Grants have been an average of $400.

Michael Redmond, executive director at the Haven, said the greatest portion of grants went to rent and utilities.

The strain has also been felt in other ways. Pre-pandemic, an average of about 40 people would visit the Haven’s food pantry every day. Now that number is 70-80.

United Way, which oversees the 211 assistance lines in the Twin States, has seen requests related to rent, food pantries and food stamp applications double from March-June 2019 to the same time period this year.

“We suspect that we will see more people needing services, and I think that’s starting to show now,” said Katie Kent, area director for Upper Valley region of Granite United Way. “This is a new world for people who have never been in the system, so they don’t know what’s there.”

People in need of emergency rental assistance can call 211 and be connected with agencies in their area that can help. While it helps to call at the earliest indication that rental assistance might be needed, that’s not the reality for many people.

“A lot of times if people are in poverty and living paycheck to paycheck, they are focused on what they need to do today, not what they need to do a month down the road,” Kent said.

Area service providers are also concerned about another date coming up: The weekly $600 unemployment benefit that is set to expire on July 31.

“I don’t think it’s going to be, ‘Here’s a month’s rent and you’re going to be all set,’ ” Burke said. “I’m more concerned about the long term because this isn’t going to be over in a couple months. This is going to be a longer-term economic problem.”

SEVCA has staff specially trained to help people navigate the rental assistance application process and can also set them up with financial planning services.

Listen Community Services has so far not seen an increase in people calling for rental assistance and is primarily seeing “people who are trying to prevent homelessness and trying to find sustainable housing,” said Georgia Hanchett-Dean, assistant program services director at the Lebanon-based nonprofit organization.

“There seems to be a lot of movement and apartment hunting right now,” she said. “I expected to get many calls on back rent. I think the reason we might not be getting as many of those yet is because Upper Valley Strong and Granite United Way keep apace on it all and the CARES Act is still evolving in the application process.”

Listen staff members encourage renters to work with their landlords to make a payment, even if it’s not the full amount. New Hampshire Legal Aid and Vermont Legal Aid can also assist people facing eviction. Listen can also help people navigate the CARES Act application process.

However, staff have noticed another area of concern among clients: property taxes.

“In general there are very few resources for people who need help with property taxes, even before COVID hit,” said Angela Zhang, program services director at Listen.

While there may be financial and federal resources available now for people to make their rent and mortgage payments, that doesn’t mean the money will be there in the future.

“I’m more concerned about six months from now,” Zhang said. “What I’m worried about is (COVID-19) cases will rise and there will be less support on our federal level.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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