NH officials reallocate housing funds to rent relief

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletinan independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other media to republish its stories.

Bursting with federal money after a series of stimulus packages, New Hampshire officials have spent more than a year rolling out housing programs to stave off evictions and help homeless people in the state.

But efforts have been complicated by upcoming federal deadlines that dictate how quickly the money must be spent. Departments face an increasingly urgent choice: spend the money or lose it. Now officials are starting to move money to try to meet those deadlines.

The Executive Council recently approved a request from the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (GOFERR) to reduce the amount of money allocated to two housing stability programs and divert the dollars to disaster relief. rents.

The two programs, the “Intensive Case Management Program” and the “Incentive Owner Outreach Program,” were launched on October 12 for $3.4 million. The first program is designed to help move people in homeless shelters to more permanent housing through the assignment of case managers. The second aims to incentivize landlords to accept more tenants who receive housing choice vouchers – also known as Section 8.

The board-approved action item reduces that $3.4 million to $1 million and transfers the additional $2.3 million to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

GOFERR worked with the Department of Health and Social Services and the Community Development Funding Authority through a Memorandum of Understanding to get the programs up and running.

But officials say now, with two months left to spend the money, the rent relief program – which compensates landlords for unpaid rent to prevent existing tenants from being evicted – is a safer bet. to get him out. Federal emergency rental assistance funding came to the state in two tranches, called ERA 1 and ERA 2; ERA 1 funds must be spent by the end of September 2022, while ERA 2 funds last until 2025.

“We were working with our partner entities to make sure that (money) was pumped into areas that were spending enough and fast enough that by the end of September it was exhausted,” said Chase Hagaman, deputy director of GOFERR. . “So a lot of that is moving funds into the rental assistance program because it has a pretty high burn rate and high demand.”

The reallocation of money reduces the reach of some of the programs that state officials have put in place over the past year. But those running the programs say they will always play a vital role in efforts to reduce homelessness.

The goal, says DHHS Associate Commissioner Christine Santaniello, is to make homelessness “rare, brief and one-time.”

“This memorandum of understanding (memorandum of understanding) and our work with CDFA (Community Development Finance Authority) is to help people get housing and maintain their housing because that’s really what we want to make sure that people maintain the housing that they have so they don’t ‘I don’t end up being homeless,’ Santaniello said.

The Intensive Case Management program funds shelters and homeless support agencies, creating “system navigation services” to help guide shelter residents to housing options. This work is done by staff and volunteers who already work at the shelters, Santaniello said.

Due to reduced funds and the need to spend the money quickly, DHHS is now focused on building a training library for the case management approach, which will be used as a resource in the future. , said Santaniello.

The Homeowner Outreach Program, meanwhile, is designed to add state support to Home For All, an organization aimed at bringing more homeowners on board by accepting Section 8 vouchers. Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected a bill that would ban landlords from deciding who they rent to based on a potential tenant’s need for housing vouchers. Home For All seeks to find ways to voluntarily bring homeowners into the system. This can include providing funds to help renovate apartments to the standards needed for the Federal Housing Choice Program and giving landlords the assurance that their tenant has a support network.

The state’s federal funding allocation will go to Granite United Way, which will then partner with Home For All, Santaniello said. Officials hope to secure 60 Section 8-friendly homes by the end of September when the money runs out.

Each of the housing programs is a small piece of the larger puzzle, but Santaniello says the state aims to reduce homelessness for the first time by 30% by 2024. That goal comes from the State Council on housing stability, created by an executive order of Governor Chris Sununu in 2020.

The partnerships are meant to help achieve that goal, Santaniello says. “A plan to create housing stability and prevent homelessness – that takes everyone,” she said.

For Hagaman, even though the state has reduced its allocation to housing stability programs, these programs will be essential in the long term. The second tranche of federal rental assistance, known as ERA 2, is set to expire in 2025, but it will eventually fade, he noted.

“At some point, you know, the funding will eventually go away,” he said. “There’s going to have to be a ‘what’s next?’ The services are supposed to sort of set up, you know, what’s next.

Yet Santaniello and others say no amount of federal funding and state incentive programs can change the larger, more intractable reality: New Hampshire has too few homes for too many people. Finding a solution to that will take years of market development and stabilization that are beyond the scope of DHHS’s work, she said.

“It depends on the increase in housing units,” she said, of the long-term plan. “So it can’t be done in isolation.”

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