The Bulletin Board

End to eviction moratorium elevates importance of aid distribution

By: - August 30, 2021 5:27 pm
An eviction notice on a wooden table

In total, the state has distributed $38 million of the roughly $200 million in federal funds available since the program to assist renters started in March. (Getty Images)

It took four days for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a new moratorium on evictions after the previous one expired July 31. It took 23 more days for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike it down.

Now, after the Supreme Court order, which allowed an earlier U.S. District Court decision ending the moratorium to proceed, New Hampshire’s state aid organizations and governor’s office are working to deal with the potential fallout.

Elliott Berry, an attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the co-director of the organization’s Housing Justice Project, said the court decision could have an immediate impact.

“The Supreme Court’s action is extremely regrettable and will cause hundreds of evictions, if not more, as well as a significant increase in homelessness and a spike in COVID-19 infections,” Berry said in a statement. “All of this could have been readily avoided had the moratorium been left in place until October as planned.”

But Berry said those facing eviction should still apply for their best shot at staying in their apartments: New Hampshire’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which allows tenants to apply for up to 15 months in back rent or future rent in federal funding that flows to their landlord. 

“NHLA will continue to work with administrators of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the courts, and other stakeholders to maximize tenants’ opportunities to get the help they need and prevent eviction,” he said. “We will also continue to represent as many tenants with low income as possible.”

The U.S. has had some form of moratorium on evictions due to nonpayment of rent since September 2020. That September order replaced a number of state-centered eviction bans, such as New Hampshire’s, which ended in July 2020. 

But while the initial state and federal moratoriums had applied to anyone facing eviction for the nonpayment of rent, the latest version, enacted Aug. 3, was much more narrow in scope. It applied only to renters under a certain income level, and only if they lived in a county that was currently experiencing “substantial” or “high” levels of COVID-19 transmission, as defined by the CDC. 

Even when the new order was issued earlier this month, observers predicted its days were numbered; the Supreme Court had earlier allowed a 30-day extension through the end of July, but Justice Brett Kavanaugh had indicated that that was the final extension.

For now, Community Action Program agencies in New Hampshire, aided by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, are focusing on continuing to distribute assistance. As of Aug. 27, the agencies had approved 5,792 applications out of the 9,554 they have received, according to a state dashboard; nearly 40 percent of people who have applied are still waiting.

In total, the state has distributed $38 million of the roughly $200 million in federal funds available since the program started in March. Those tenants who have received assistance have benefited from $7,141 on average.

New Hampshire’s application turnaround delays have frustrated advocates, landlords, and tenants. In a statement, Ben Vihstadt, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Sununu, blamed federally required paperwork requirements for creating “incredibly burdensome” conditions for agencies to approve applications. 

But Vihstadt said the agencies that distribute the aid have increased staff to attempt to speed up the process. 

“The CAP agencies with high volumes of applications have succeeded in adding additional staff to process applications and are providing additional training and oversight of case workers to improve the process,” Vihstadt said.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.