Affordable housing shortage a major roadblock as federal hotel assistance ends
As programs funding winds down, many in New Hampshire find ‘they have no place to go’
About 1,000 people currently housed in motels and hotels across the state amid the ongoing housing crunch are desperate to find affordable housing now that the funding covering their rooms is ending.
“They’re breaking down,” said Jessica Margeson, tenants’ rights advocate with the Granite State Organizing Project, of people housed at the Comfort Inn. “They have no place to go.”
On Saturday, April 1, the state will no longer cover the lodging costs for individuals; for families, the emergency assistance fund ends on June 15, 2023.
Margeson said at the beginning of March, Southern New Hampshire Services (SNSH) reached out to those at the Comfort Inn, connecting them with agencies for services. Those included the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the welfare department, and the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, among others.
The Manchester hotel has been home to as many as 70 households (a household can be a single person or a family of two or more) since last summer. Many found themselves homeless after being unable to afford to pay their rent or being evicted for renovations, among other reasons.
The problem, she said, is there are no affordable apartments. Another barrier for those housed in hotels, Margeson said, is having to explain to a prospective landlord why you were one of those who were unable to get an apartment.
“It’s the same as if you were out of work. The longer you stay homeless, the harder it is to get an apartment,” she said.
Charleen Michaud, director of Manchester’s Welfare Department, focused on the number of people who will lose assistance as of April 1 when asked about what the city is doing now that the program ending. She said in an email, that as of March 17 there were 33 Manchester residents living in city hotels; another 16 residents in hotels outside the city, and 10 people who are not Manchester residents residing in city hotels, for a total of 59 people. Those numbers do not include the families staying at the hotel.
She said on March 2, her office emailed each household a letter encouraging them to apply “sooner rather than later” for local welfare assistance “from our office or their town of origin.”
Michaud said many of the people being housed in the hotels “have income, and as they have not had to use any of their own money for their hotel costs thus far, they were advised to save their money to pay for their own hotel fees once the ETH (Emergency Temporary Housing) program ends.”
She said while they have not reached every person who will lose the assistance on April 1, some of those they talked with “may have other housing options. Some have been saving their money and can begin paying for their own hotel cost at least for a period of time.” A hotel room costs about $120 per day.
Others indicated they will live with family or friends, while others say they will not go to a shelter and “will return to living in their car,” she wrote. “Even if they have not been saving their money, some of them have SSI income which they will receive on April 1 and others receive SSD which will be received on April 3rd which can be used to continue their hotel stay for some period of time. Individuals who are without any housing options and without any financial ability to pay for their own hotel stay should complete an application for assistance with the municipality they lived in immediately prior to being placed in a hotel. They should do so prior to April 1st.”
Margeson said what people don’t understand is food stamps, which many of those housed in hotels receive, were “cut drastically at a time when food prices rocketed. Living in the motels, they only had access to air fryers and microwaves, which cost so much more.” She said the combination of cuts and high prices doubled and even tripled their food costs.
‘Throughout the state’
When SNHS first reached out to those in the hotel, Margeson said, people thought it was their salvation.
“I had to break the news to people that they can try to get you in there but there are no openings anywhere,” she said. “There’s a trickling of one or two apartments here or there.”
Todd Marsh, president of the NH Local Welfare Administrators Association and Rochester’s welfare director, said as of March 12 in Rochester there were 94 households in motels, 21 of them with children; 36 were residents from other towns; 24 Rochester residents were housed in motels in other communities.
“I think you are going to find that throughout the state,” he said. “Municipal welfare administrators are playing nicer in the welfare sandbox.”
The association reached an agreement concerning which community would cover the cost for housing a homeless individual basing it on the “town of origin.” Manchester, the state’s largest city with the largest homeless population, complained that cities and towns were sending the houseless to Manchester instead of providing for their own residents.
Marsh said that while the federal funding is coming to an end, services still exist.
He said local welfare offices will be responsible for those residents when the federal funding ends. He said it is likely welfare offices will require more documentation and more case management. They also will explore job opportunities for individuals.
“We are a financial assistance program and are more toward increased case management to truly help people and help people help themselves,” he said.
Local welfare is required to ensure people have their basic needs met “which includes a roof over their heads,” he said.
Marsh said unlike the federal program, which paid for the hotel room three months at a time, a local welfare office may pay for a week at a time and require the individual to return weekly to the welfare office. They will verify pay stubs and expenses.
He said if a person is offered a shelter bed and refuses, then the welfare office has met its obligations.
“Local welfare does a good job in preventing a homeless situation for people currently in housing,” Marsh said. “It’s much more challenging for people who are not in housing getting into housing. You need to show an ability to maintain (an apartment) and those are very high expectations for many landlords.”
‘A landlord’s market’
Like Margeson, he said the problem is there is no affordable housing.
“It’s clearly a landlord’s market,” he said. “They’re choosing who they think is the best candidate based on histories which, unfortunately, prevent people from getting a second chance. There are landlords who do and sometimes those landlords regret their decision but I’m impressed by those who still do.”
During the pandemic, the NH Housing Finance Authority was authorized $297,289,931 to help 27,011 households pay their rent. Those individuals and families were located in 220 towns and cities across the state. The average assistance totaled $11,006.
The funds were distributed by five Community Action Programs covering the state. SNHS distributed $77,684,597 in Hillsborough County and another $22,592,462 in Rockingham County, for a total of $100,277,059. Last year, 11,683 families were saved from eviction in those two counties, according to SNHS.
“It’s sort of staggering the scope of the program,” said Robert Dapice, executive director of NH Housing. “I think it’s a real testament to the CAPs (Community Action Program) to accept and process these applications.”
He said the program helped a lot of people, including landlords, “especially early in the pandemic.”
Dapice said when it became clear that federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds were going to run out, the governor and legislators made $20 million from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act, available to cover the hotel costs through the winter.
The Emergency Temporary Housing funds covered hotel costs for individuals through April 1 and for families, through June 15.
There are funds available, also through the CAPs, to help people in danger of becoming homeless or experiencing homelessness, in paying application fees, the security deposit, first month’s rent and moving expenses to an affordable permanent residence. However, the individual must show they can afford the rent for the new apartment.
Initially, it was thought that the housing market would open up by the time the federal funding dried up. That didn’t happen. Rents continue to climb.
“It’s a really difficult situation,” Dapice said. He said there is a lot of homelessness no one sees, such as people doubling up in apartments.
“Visible street homelessness is sometimes only the tip of the whole picture,” he said. “They might not be living on the street, but in a car. That is certainly not ideal.”
He, too, said the problem is there is not enough affordable housing.
“We need a great deal of housing,” including market-rate, affordable and supportive housing, providing wrap-around services such as mental health or substance abuse treatment, Dapice said.
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