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Granite State Rumblings: Everyone Wants A Home

My weekend with Spidey, (my 6 year old grandson), seemed to revolve around “homes and family.” His dad, a Marine, is about to return home from his third deployment, so that was weighing heavily on his mind. It has been more than a year since he has last seen him and he is eagerly counting the days until he can welcome dad home.

Also on Spidey’s mind was a poster that he had seen on a telephone pole in my neighborhood about a lost cat. He was concerned that the lost kitty would never find its way back home. He expressed how sad it would be if it never got to see its family again. I tried to reassure him, but he was adamant that we needed to look for it, “because everybody needs a home and their own family, Grandma”.  So we set out on a walk around the entire neighborhood with some cat treats in our pockets to see if we could find the lost kitty. We could not.

We also made a trip to the local animal shelter in case it was there. It was not. But there were a whole lot of cats who needed a home and a family there and Spidey was on a crusade. He implored everyone who was there to please pick out a kitty and take it home with them. “You won’t be sorry,” he told one lady, “my grandma has two kitty cats and they are no trouble at all. They even like Lilly, our dog. They are like one big family.”

That night for his book before bedtime he chose one of my favorite books from my childhood, “Everyone Wants a Home”. That then turned to a discussion about children who don’t have a home. He informed me that I must work on that at my work, “because, remember Grandma, everybody needs a home, even kids and kitties and dogs and grown-ups”

That’s some pretty heavy thinking for such a little guy. I promised him I would work on it, so here’s some important information and a call for your help as well.

There is legislation in the New Hampshire house that can help to ensure that more people can successfully find a home. That legislation is HB 1409, an act expanding the law against discrimination to prohibit housing discrimination against recipients of rental assistance and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Right now it is legal in the state for a landlord to post in a classified ad or on their property, No section 8 tenants acceptedThat is a form of discrimination and that needs to end. New Hampshire is better than that.

HB 1409 was recommended Ought to Pass, 11-7 in the House Judiciary Committee. The full House is expected to vote on this – possibly as soon as March 5. To you and me this bill may seem like a no-brainer. But believe it or not, there is some powerful opposition to it, fueled by myths and misinformation.

First, here’s what the bill will do:

  • Ensure low-income seniors, families, people with disabilities, and veterans whose rental assistance helps them live independent and productive lives are judged on their own merits as potential tenants.
  • Help domestic violence survivors find needed housing.
  • Bring NH in line with over a dozen other states, as well as several counties and municipalities, to end this form of discrimination.

Here are facts about New Hampshire’s rental assistance program:

  • Low-income families, seniors and individuals with disabilities now wait up to 9 years to get rental assistance. Once a family finally makes it to the top of the wait list, it has just 60 days to use it – or lose it. Discrimination adds a delay to finding housing, and some have lost their vouchers because they could not find housing.
    • One NH woman told the House Judiciary Committee during the public hearing on HB1409 that she waited 8 years for one of NH’s scarce rental assistance vouchers.  She had been in hiding for years from an abusive former partner.  Once her voucher was finally issued, she had just 60 days to secure housing. Even though she’d been a good tenant at her current apartment, her landlord refused to take her Section 8 voucher because he did not want to work with the program.  She testified that she spoke to 13 different landlords in one weekend, all of whom refused to rent to her based solely on the fact that she had been a victim of domestic violence or that she would be paying part of her rent with a rental assistance voucher.
  • Section 8 was designed as a tool to de-concentrate poverty and empower families and individuals. Voucher-holders, like other consumers, need housing choices that work for their goals: better schools, jobs, family support, or access to healthcare. Discriminatory practices defeat the purpose of the program by limiting choices and opportunities for greater self-sufficiency.
  • Of the 9,000 rental assistance vouchers in use now in NH:
    • 25% help elderly NH residents remain housed
    • 40% help disabled individuals remain housed
    • 35% help families with children remain housed;
      the vast majority of these are low-income working families
    • NH is also allocated a small number of housing vouchers
      for veterans, known as VASH

Here is more information and some myth busting from our friends at Housing Action New Hampshire:

Why is HB1409 being introduced?

The 2010 statewide Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing concluded that there are two major obstacles to housing opportunity in New Hampshire:  domestic violence victimization, and reliance on housing assistance. HB 1409 would help address these obstacles so that victims of domestic violence and those who have finally received housing choice or VASH vouchers are able to access housing.

Under HB 1409, will landlords still be able to pick and choose tenants?

Absolutely.  Landlords still have the right to pick and choose tenants, so long as they’re not treating tenants or potential tenants differently because of their history or receipt of housing assistance.  A person with housing assistance or a domestic violence survivor could still be denied an apartment based on non-discriminatory reasons, such as having bad credit or poor references.

Will HB 1409 mean open season for litigation against landlords?

No.  Seven years ago, additional “protected classes” were added to the housing discrimination law (to cover “age”, “marital status,” and “sexual orientation”).  Since then, a total of only 21 complaints have been filed with the NH Human Rights Commission.  Also, all housing discrimination complaints under HB 1409 would have to be filed with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, which has an informal administrative process and encourages mediation.

Should landlords be forced to work with HUD and comply with their health and safety rules in order to rent their units?

HUD does require landlords to meet certain safety and health standards – after all, everyone deserves a decent place to live, and the government has crafted this policy to ensure housing paid for with public funds is safe and habitable. Responsible landlords do this anyway – and they support this bill.

Won’t this encourage tenants to make fake calls to police and domestic violence shelters to gain protected “status?” 

The suggestion that a person would make a fake complaint of domestic violence because he or she thinks it might help them with future housing is far-fetched – especially because it’s a crime to make a false report to police.

Will property insurance rates go up if landlords accept families with Section 8 vouchers?

No.  Prominent landlords familiar with the Section 8 program and who rent to Section 8 tenants report that they pay competitive rates for their property insurance.  In fact, they report that they’re not even asked about rental assistance by insurance companies.

And finally here’s what you can do:

You can help educate legislators with important facts – and create housing opportunity — by making a call to your reps before March 5.

To Find Contact Info for Your House Member Type in Your Hometown HERE.

Below is testimony presented during the public hearing on HB 1409 by Laurel Redden, representing Housing Action NH.

Dear Representative Smith and Members of the House Judiciary Committee:

Housing Action New Hampshire is a growing coalition of developers, human service providers, public housing authorities and housing advocates united around affordable housing policy and ending homelessness in NH.
We count among our membership both landlords and tenant advocacy
organizations, so we scrutinize landlord/tenant proposals for those that are considered “fair and functional.”

Upon review of House Bill 1409, Housing Action NH urges the Committee to recommend it Ought to Pass and to finally expand NH’s anti-discrimination statute to include voucher holders and survivors of
domestic violence.

Our coalition brings a particular knowledge-base and familiarity with the voucher program, so we will focus our testimony on the voucher holder and the need for the passage of this bill to support the intent of the housing choice voucher program.

Tenant-based rental assistance, known as housing choice vouchers, was established in 1974 under President Nixon. It was intended to provide an alternative to the government’s involvement in producing affordable multifamily housing, including traditional public housing. It allows low-income families and individuals the opportunity to reside where the household determines the best opportunities for their own independence and self-sufficiency can be met – whether that means better schools for their children, better access to employment for adults, better access to family support or healthcare, or other reasons. The promise was to remove government from people’s lives and empower families to make decisions that worked for them.

In NH today, approximately 9,400 individuals and families utilize housing choice vouchers. Rental assistance is not available to all who are eligible, and in fact, the waitlist for a voucher can be up to 9 years.

The challenges of a long wait for a voucher are further exacerbated when a voucher-holding renter can now legally be denied a rental home. It’s time for NH to change this.

It may be helpful to understand just who is assisted by rental assistance vouchers in NH: 25% are elderly, both disabled and non-disabled; another 40% are disabled, non-elderly and 35% are families with children. Of the families with children, only 33% of them also receive TANF. NH is also allocate a small number of housing vouchers for veterans, known as VASH.

It also may be helpful to know that those on the state’s waitlist for vouchers need to prove they are still eligible for assistance every year – keeping a mailing address and phone number is a critical piece of remaining on the list, and experiencing homelessness risks the ability to keep up with these eligibility check-ins.

Federal law dictates that the bulk of vouchers go to families and individuals who earn less than 30% of NH’s area median family income. Figures from NH Housing show 68% of voucher-holders are Extremely Low Income. That means their income ranges from a low of $14,800 in Coos, Sullivan,
Carroll, Grafton and Cheshire counties, to a high of $21,900 in Western Rockingham County. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report on hourly wages needed to maintain housing in all 50 states showed a wage of $20.47 was needed in NH in 2013 to afford a 2-
bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent.

While waiting for vouchers, families with income levels that barely cover rent, let alone other necessities, may double up in overcrowded conditions with friends and relatives. Sixty-four percent of households in this income category pay half or more of their income for rent, leaving very little for food, transportation and medical care. Many of these families are at high risk of homelessness, and homeless shelter directors tell us they are full of people who are eligible for vouchers but who cannot access one.

Imagine living under this precarious scenario for up to 9 years, and finally learning rental assistance is in your hands. It should put you on a path toward greater self-sufficiency — to let you find work where you have better chances at promotion and higher salaries, live in a neighborhood offering a better or more appropriate education for your child, or better access to health care. You have 60 days to make that happen after receiving notice your voucher is active, or you risk going to the back of the line. Now,
imagine finding out that your landlord does not accept your form of rent payment.

Denying rental housing for no other reason than the tenant has a voucher is indeed a form of discrimination. It also has the secondary consequence of encouraging concentrations of poverty instead of diversifying communities as intended.

For these reasons, we urge the Committee to recommend HB1409 Ought to Pass. It’s time for NH to do what 13 states, including our neighbors in Maine, and 29 cities have done to ensure freedom of mobility for voucher holders.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for your ongoing service.

Every Child Matters in NH is a member of the Housing Action NH coalition. For more information please contact Laurel Redden.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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