Despite high court ruling, there’s still hope for renters trying to avoid eviction

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Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that landlords have the right to proceed with evictions for non-payment of rent, people in arrears should not lose their housing, Portsmouth Housing Authority Executive Director Craig Welch said.

“Despite the fact that landlords have the right to evict, with hundreds of millions of dollars in Emergency Rental Relief Funds available in New Hampshire, there is little excuse for any renters to be evicted for non-payment of rent,” Welch said.

He was referring to some $200 million in rental relief funds that have been allocated to New Hampshire during the COVID pandemic, much of it still unspent.

Welch said the Community Action Agencies in charge of distributing those funds continue to work to make the process easier for people.

Southern NH Services, which processes emergency relief applications for Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, has about 30 staffers working on the emergency relief program, executive director Donnalee Lozeau said Friday.

“I am incredibly proud of my staff,” she said. “These have been unforeseen times, and it’s nice to know New Hampshire has stepped up.”

Lozeau said some $40 million in federal emergency rental assistance has gone out on behalf of renters. Most of it is paid directly to landlords, utility companies and other vendors.

Dean Christon is the executive director of New Hampshire Housing, which oversees the state’s community housing programs. He said Friday that 5,200 households have been helped with emergency relief since March.

Applying for the program requires documentation from the tenant such as utility bills, income statements or filling out a tax form.

Elliott Berry, co-director of the Housing Justice Project at NH Legal Assistance, said applicants often are older, non-English speaking or not computer-savvy.

He called the Supreme Court’s action in siding with landlords “highly regrettable” and predicted it would result in a significant increase in homelessness and a spike in COVID-19 infections.

“All of this could have been readily avoided had the moratorium been left in place until October as planned,” Berry said in a statement.

In the majority Supreme Court opinion, eight of the justices’ wrote. “Despite the CDC’s determination that landlords should bear a significant financial cost of the pandemic, many landlords have modest means and preventing them from evicting tenants who breach their leases intrudes on one of the most fundamental elements of property ownership — the right to exclude.”

Welch urged landlords to make sure tenants are aware that rental assistance is available and to let renters at risk know who to contact to get an application started.

“Then, it’s up to the residents or their caretakers to apply,” he said.

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