Despite Democrats’ efforts to fast-track it, it’s not clear yet whether President Biden’s preferred $1.9 trillion stimulus package will pass Congress intact, or if it doesn’t, what will be trimmed. If it does go through unscathed, it promises an additional $25 billion in rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households, plus another $5 billion to help renters with utility bills and $5 billion to help states and localities assist those most at risk of becoming homeless.
Aside from money, it would extend the federal eviction moratorium to Sept. 30, and for the same period, let those with federally guaranteed mortgages put off their payments.
All of that would come on the heels of the $25 million passed by Congress in December as part of the long-overdue $900 billion second pandemic stimulus package.
As lawmakers spar over this newest package, New Hampshire housing advocates are still awaiting the state’s share of that December package, some $200 million.
Also, although the December stimulus allowed states to extend their CARES Act programs through December 2021, New Hampshire discontinued its Housing Relief Program. That $35 million program helped cover rent, mortgage and utility costs for people who lost income or faced greater expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including some $2 million doled out in this region by Southwestern Community Services.
As they await disbursement of the second stimulus, and with earlier funding having expired at year’s end, agencies such as Southwestern Community Services have had to extend funding of their own to area renters and others to bridge the gap. That’s not a tenable situation for long, they say.
But wait, one might say. Isn’t that what they do anyway? Isn’t that why they have those funds to begin with? Well, yes and no. They do have funds put aside to assist with housing, but the need for that assistance is far greater during the pandemic than at normal times.
In fact, housing may eventually become the biggest economic issue resulting from the COVID era. That’s because housing accounts for such a large percentage of monthly costs for most of us, and the lower a person’s income, typically, the larger that percentage.
So every loss compounds. Lost wages lead to falling behind on rent, which hasn’t meant being evicted for many people only because of federal and state moratoriums on evictions. In the meantime, though, that overdue rent mounts, along with interest on loans or mortgages, late fees and bounced check penalties, legal costs for those whose landlords have started the processing of eviction — which in many cases can proceed, even though tenants can’t be removed during the moratorium.
At the same time those landlords aren’t getting paid, putting them in a bind as well. That means falling behind on maintenance and repairs, perhaps on utilities and on their own loans. They may have to lay off workers, who then become part of the at-risk group themselves.
Add to the recipe all the other bills those out of work during the pandemic can’t pay, all the things not being purchased because of the lack of disposable income, the medical costs, lost taxes, increased logistical and cleaning costs.
It all spirals along the same axis, putting tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Granite Staters at risk of losing one of the foundational supports of a stable life: a roof over their head.
Nothing outweighs the cost in lives and health of this crisis, but financially, it may come to be remembered most for the loss of housing.
And each week, those on the edge teeter closer to falling. That’s where cutting through the bureaucracy and getting the approved funds out to the agencies and people where they can make a difference is so urgent.