ROCHESTER - One of the three city councilors pushing for a microloan rental relief program said he plans to question how thoroughly city officials investigated the issue before deciding it wasn't necessary.
"I've talked to a few people that will be hurting when the economy restarts, and they get back to working after being laid off," Ward 5 Councilor Chris Rice said on Sunday. "Questions will be raised about was this thoroughly investigated at the city level though the departments."
Rochester's city manager on Thursday said the Microloan Rent Relief program proposed by Rice, Ward 1 Councilor Jeremy Hutchinson, a longtime homeless advocate; and Ward 2 Councilor Palana Belken, was unnecessary since that type of assistance is already made available through the city's Welfare Office.
In a letter within the agenda and packet for Tuesday's City Council meeting, City Manager Blaine Cox said after discussing the issue with staff it was decided, "Our existing welfare program is positioned to meet all the needs of residents with verified need that exist."
But Rice said the city needs to get out in front of this before the state of emergency is lifted.
"We need to be proactive and lay out a roadmap to help these citizens that will be hurting when we come out of the state of emergency," he said.
Figures from the city welfare office appear to belie Rice's sense of urgency. City Welfare Director Todd Marsh told The Rochester Voice on Friday that, in fact, city welfare disbursals are down more than 30 percent compared to April 2019.
Marsh said federal stimulus checks and the state's increase in unemployment compensation could be why demand for assistance is down.
In his summary to the City Council Cox reasoned, "The proposed Residential Housing Relief Micro-Loan Program contemplates providing financial assistance to residents who are in jeopardy of losing their housing due to job loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Per longstanding provisions stipulated in state RSA's, our existing welfare program provides this very assistance."
The proposal was authored by Hutchinson, who at a City Council meeting on April 21 said homeless insecurity poses a "grave vulnerability to our city."
The proposal would comprise a $500,000 housing microloan fund that would lend up to $2,000 per household to help those who face eviction or foreclosure.
The plan was to have the money come out of the city's unassigned fund balance, which would require a public hearing and a two-thirds majority vote.
"This is not over yet," declared Rice. "We are the City Council, and I think we'll have a good discussion on Tuesday night."