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Officials: Housing needs could spike as evictions resume, jobless aid ends

State and local advocates say the housing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have not gone away and could even grow as an eviction moratorium ends and expanded unemployment aid expires.

Representatives of state and local housing and homeless-service organizations discussed those issues with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on a conference call Wednesday morning. Among other things, they said the end-of-the-year deadline for them to use funds from the federal CARES Act has them concerned, especially as it becomes increasingly clear that the novel coronavirus will not be a short-term problem.

“This is going to be a long-term challenge,” said Dean Christon, executive director of the N.H. Finance Authority. “The deadline from some of the CARES Act funding, particularly providing resources for homeless shelters and housing, expects that all issues will be solved by the end of December. I think that is a little overly optimistic given what we’re seeing.”

He and others participating in the call, including two local officials, encouraged Shaheen to advocate for extending those deadlines, especially as homeless shelters have faced new logistical and financial challenges resulting from the pandemic.

John Manning, chief executive officer of Keene-based Southwestern Community Services, said that since the pandemic began, the nonprofit agency has had to decrease the capacity of its shelters to address the health concerns of COVID-19. That includes having a room available if someone needs to self-quarantine, he said.

With fewer beds available, the organization, which covers Cheshire and Sullivan counties, has had to find additional shelter space, he said. The agency has received some emergency funding to help with that, but those expenses will continue and need to be met somehow, he said.

Further, as before the pandemic, there is still a need for increased funding to get people out of homeless shelters and into permanent housing, he said.

Those participating in the conference call also discussed the need for more funding in anticipation of having to help more people, especially with the state’s eviction moratorium having been lifted July 1 and expanded unemployment benefits set to end at the close of the month.

“We’re anticipating a wave of applications coming shortly, and we have no means to meet the wave,” said Joshua Meehan, executive director of Keene Housing.

There are 28,000 people served by housing authorities in the state, and those are the lucky ones, he said. For each one of them there are others eligible for such housing but not enough housing available to meet their needs.

Meehan said in an interview following the call that housing authorities across the state are anticipating the wave of applications as unemployment benefits start to run out and people who are unable to pay rent can now be evicted.

Housing authority officials anticipate many of those applications will be from people who were already on the margin economically before the pandemic, including many service-industry workers who have been without jobs, he said.

“It’s folks who are right on the edge, and in good times can maintain their housing. Those families we’re most likely to see pushed over the edge with COVID-19-related unemployment,” he said.

Shaheen, a Democrat, said that when Congress passed the CARES Act back in March, no one had a clear picture of how long the country would be dealing with this pandemic. She said it has become clear that the funding expiration deadlines need to be changed, and Congress needs to back another legislative package to help people, their communities and social service agencies.

In addition, any future coronavirus-relief funding package needs to include housing, she said. That means not only supports for renters and homeowners but also investment in affordable housing, she said.

“In order get the economy back up and running, we need to address some underlying issues like housing,” she said. “We will not be able to get back to where we were unless we address some of these issues.”