LACONIA — Being forced to move and find a new place to live is always an ordeal. But when you are an ex-offender, that process is an especially difficult hurdle.
That’s the hardship Derek Emans is facing.
Emans, 31, has less than three weeks to find a new place to live for him, his fiancee, and their two children. They currently occupy a three-room apartment in a building on Park Street — one of five buildings which are slated for demolition to make way for a 29,500-square-foot commercial-residential building that will occupy a third of a block in the center of Lakeport.
Ten years ago Emans and two other men lured a pizza delivery person to an address in Weirs Beach, where they robbed him. Emans said he was sentenced to three to six years in prison on a charge of armed robbery, and served four years in prison.
He says he’s struggled to walk the straight and narrow since then. He admits his parole officer has had to tell him to shape up lots of times. He works at various construction-type jobs and will take whatever work wherever he can find it. He said he’s kept his nose clean for several years now.
He and Deanna Aldridge, his fiance, work to support themselves and their two daughters, ages 1, and 23 months.
“We’re scared,” Emans said. “We’ve got to be out by 5 p.m. on Oct. 15.”
Scott Everett, who is developing the new project, said he and the office manager of his real estate company, Paugus Elm LLC, have been working to help their tenants find new places to live.
“We have given them as much notice as we could and also meet the timetable,” for the project, Everett said, adding: ”We’re being very respectful of this process and the tenants.”
Everett said he would like to start demolition on the buildings before the end of the year.
He said he is in negotiations to buy three or four rental properties in the city which, if the deals go through, could provide homes to some of those now living in the Lakeport buildings. He did not identify which buildings he is looking to buy, but said last week he hopes the purchases might be finalized “within the next couple of weeks.”
Meanwhile, Emans feels the deck is stacked against him.
When he applies for a new apartment he always has to answer a question on the application of whether he has been convicted of a crime. He said he always answers truthfully, but feels doing so hurts his chances of getting the apartment.
“They tell you they are going to do a background check so they say, ‘Is there anything we need to know,’” he said. He believes that when a landlord finds out that he has done time, his application goes to the bottom of the pile.
A criminal record “can make it impossible,” for a convict to find a place to live, said Len Campbell, who has extensive experience in dealing with housing and homelessness issues in the Lakes Region.
The challenge of ex-offenders finding housing impacts recidivism. Housing means stability, and a lack of stability contributes to many people returning to their old ways and the behavior that landed them in prison in the first place. Without the ability to support themselves and fully reintegrate into society, many ex-offenders will commit new crimes and find themselves back in prison.
Matt Lahey, an attorney who has represented hundreds of criminal defendants in his career, said the state Parole Board requires that an inmate seeking parole must have “a secure place to live” before they are released.
But if a former inmate then needs to move later on, they face the possibility of not being able to find housing.
Campbell said three issues have created a nexus that aggravates the area’s already tight housing market: A high rate of poverty, an aging population, and what Campbell called the “wealth gap.”
The median gross rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Belknap County last year was $1,057 a month, not including utilities, according to a survey conducted last year by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
Emans, who has been paying $950 a month, including utilities, for his apartment on Park Street, said he figures that, given what he and Aldridge make together, he can only afford to pay just another $100 in rent.
Jeff Hayes, executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, said that 43 percent of renters in the area, are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, which means they do not have affordable housing. For those who own their homes the percentage is even higher — 62 percent.
Emans said he is unsure where he and his family will go. One possibility is they may move in with family members in Gilford or Pittsfield. “Or we may need to move out of state,” he said.