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Keeping families in their homes

The rising cost of rent is squeezing too many hard-working New Hampshire families. A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition showed that our state ranks 12th worst in the country for rental housing affordability for workers. Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach – from helping landlords and tenants avoid evictions, to incentivizing more affordable housing.

High rental costs are forcing Granite Staters to make impossible decisions. For those living paycheck to paycheck, one unexpected expense – like a medical bill or car repair – can lead to a failure to pay rent, and ultimately eviction. And entire communities feel the ramifications of evictions, which impact neighborhoods, businesses, schools, health providers, and public safety.

Landlords want to keep people in their homes, but can face real challenges paying their own bills if tenants are behind on their rent.

For families, eviction can not only cause homelessness, but can also lead to the loss of personal belongings, a ruined credit rating, and difficulty finding a landlord to rent to them in the future. Studies also show that households with children face a higher risk of being evicted, which can undermine the children’s education, their sense of security, and their overall health.

To strengthen our communities and our economy, we need proactive strategies to help keep families in their homes.

Last month, I introduced the Prevent Evictions Act, legislation that would support solutions that help both landlords and tenants.

This bill would create a landlord-tenant mediation grant program to bring landlords and tenants to the table to find informal, mutually agreeable solutions that keep tenants in their homes.

Additionally, this bill instructs the Department of Housing and Urban Development to study how rent insurance programs could be a tool used to help reduce evictions. One way that this could work would be for landlords to purchase rental insurance, so that in the event that a tenant could not pay the full month’s rent, the landlord would be made whole. Another model could involve landlords and tenants splitting the costs of rental insurance.

The Prevent Evictions Act would give people more tools to manage difficult housing situations, but it is just one of the ways I am working to address the lack of affordable housing and the rising costs of rent in New Hampshire and across the country.

I have also introduced the Rent Relief Act, which would create a new, refundable tax credit to provide relief to families who live in rental housing and pay more than 30 percent of their gross income for the taxable year on their rental costs, including utilities.

But even as we help people afford and stay in existing rental housing, we need to do more. I have consistently heard from New Hampshire businesses that the lack of affordable housing options is one of the barriers that they face when trying to hire qualified workers. To address these issues, housing advocates and local officials are working together to develop affordable housing units to ensure that people have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing.

I am working to build on their collaborative efforts. I fought to include a provision in the 2018 government funding bill that would strengthen and expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and I am continuing to work on bipartisan efforts to further expand this vital investment in affordable housing. I have also supported bipartisan legislation to help policymakers better understand and respond to America’s housing affordability crisis by creating a housing task force.

All hard-working Granite Staters and Americans deserve access to a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home. Unfortunately, evictions, rising rent, and a lack of affordable housing hold too many people back and prevent them from contributing to our communities and our economy.

The challenges associated with eviction and affordable housing affect us all, and I am going to continue working to find solutions that support individuals and businesses in their efforts to build stable, strong, and thriving communities.

Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate. She also is a former governor.