LACONIA — The much-feared eviction tsunami has not hit yet, but the head of the area’s affordable housing agency is still worried.
Tsunami has been the term some have used to describe an anticipated sudden surge in homlessness now that the ban on evictions imposed early on in the COVID-19 emergency has been lifted.
“The sky hasn’t fallen yet,” said Carmen Lorentz, executive director of Lakes Region Community Developers. “But we’re getting nervous.”
Lorentz noted that 60 percent of the agency’s 700 clients already receive some form of rent subsidy.
“That, with so many getting rent assistance, has helped mitigate the problem,” she said.
But with the eviction moratorium canceled and the additional $600-a-week in federal unemployment assistance due to run out at the end of the month, more people will be struggling starting next month, Lorentz said,
Community Developers, formerly known as the Laconia Area Community Land Trust, oversees 365 apartments throughout Belknap County, as well as lower Grafton County, and lower Carroll County.
Lorentz estimated there are about 40 renters “we‘re really nervous about.”
Some have not paid any rent since the eviction moratorium took effect in March. Others have agreed to a payment plan to get them caught up with their rent, but have thus far failed to make the necessary payments, Lorentz explained.
Community Developers is pushing to get these tenants to apply for a new source of financial assistance available through the Community Action Program, which has $35 million available for eligible Granite State residents.
Under the terms, renters may be able to get either a one-time payment of $2,500, or receive assistance over a period of few months, with the payments becoming smaller as recipients become more financially stable.
People can apply for the money by going to www.capnh.org.
New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which provides civil legal services to the state’s poor, is also urging those who are under water with their rent to apply for the money available through CAP.
“This program will hopefully forestall a widespread eviction crisis which could turn into a homelessness crisis,” said Legal Assistance spokesperson Sarah Palermo.
The surge in evictions is a certainty, according to Palermo.
“We don’t know when the crisis will hit,” she said. “But we know there will be a crisis.”
Compounding the problem has been the trouble many people have had applying for unemployment benefits. Palermo said her agency had a 500 percent increase in the number of calls from people who had been denied benefits compared to this same time last year.
Because unemployment offices were closed to the public, those who lost their jobs either had to apply online or use the Department of Employment Security’s hotline, which was often jammed with calls. Those who were able to use the online application process found it confusing and cumbersome, and sometimes it rejected an application that should have gone through, Palermo said.
Lorentz said that about 68 percent of the Community Developers’ tenants are working people. Four in 10 work in fields hit hard by the pandemic — 21 percent in restaurants, and 20 in retail, while 27 are or had jobs in healthcare, 17 percent in education, and 12 percent in manufacturing.