Shaheen addresses N.H. housing issues

WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) held a virtual meeting with New Hampshire housing advocates on the housing crisis working families across the state are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the crushing economic impact of the health crisis, many Granite State residents have been left unable to pay their mortgage or rent, resulting in a surge of evictions and in many cases, homelessness.

“The last conversation I had with some of you was about our efforts to get another round of COVID relief back in December when things were looking pretty desperate and it wasn’t clear at all that we would be able to get another package,” she said. “I’m pleased that I was able to work with a bi-partisan group to try to come up with a package that helped prompt leadership, both Republicans and Democrats, and the White House, to get back on board and get something done.”

Shaheen said the belief was that this round of relief would be short term to try to bridge the next couple of months as the new administration begins.

“As the new Congress gets started, the hope is that we can revisit some of the needs and address those in a much more expansive way,” she said. “We got $25 billion for rental existence for housing and were able to extend the eviction moratorium for one more month. I think many of us believe that it should be longer than that but we were not able to persuade our colleagues on that.”

There are a number of other provisions in the package that will hopefully help people struggling with housing costs. Additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program was provided, with a 15 percent increase in the benefit amount. And $13 billion for nutrition programs is also in the package.

“There is additional help for childcare,” Shaheen explained. “About $10 billion there, and of course, the unemployment benefits have been extended to mid-March and an additional $300 per week added on top of those. So, there are some other provisions that I hope will help those people struggling these days.”

The other piece that Shaheen addressed was getting a restriction beyond Dec. 31.

“That has been included,” she continued.

“But it’s disappointing that the state of New Hampshire has chosen not to take advantage of that extension in areas. I think the state could have used some of those dollars that were not extended – particularly the help for rental assistance that the CAP agencies were administering. That would have been very helpful to people.”

New Hampshire Housing Authority executive director Dean Christon stressed the emergency rental assistance work would be a critical resource and program as various agencies move forward.

“I also want to note something that is not as visible to people, that was in the package,” he said. “Which is, fixing the four percent credit that we have talked about for many years. Longer term, that is going to be very valuable for building more affordable housing. It will actually add some significant value to our ability to create affordable housing stock.”

Regarding additional resources requested by agencies such as NHHA, Christon talked about the critical need for supportive housing, particularly for people who are at risk for homelessness.

“While we have some resources and we’re going to work soon with our friends at the Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA), to roll out some of the resources to help create more of that supportive housing,” he said. “Additional funds for that are a really critical priority.”

The other issue that Christon discussed was the immense focus on rental assistance with much work done early on, for NH residents for people who are homeowners.

“Much of that is moving forward now,” he said. “We’re starting to see some people come out of forbearance. We just want to concentrate on how well those programs end up working and whether there are people at risk of losing their homes.”

The goal, Christon added, might be to put aside monies for intervention to help people avoid foreclosure.

“There’s been a broader range of coverage which focused on rental assistance,” he said. “But as we move into the next phase, I would hope we could look at the possibility of maybe making some resources available to homeowners.”