While Gov. Charlie Baker has authorized a fresh batch of spending to prevent evictions, some housing advocates fear that those protections will not be in place when the state eviction and foreclosure moratorium is set to expire Saturday.
“While the money is definitely needed, these programs are going to take weeks to fix,” said Rose Webster-Smith, program coordinator for Springfield No One Leaves. “It’s not like the moratorium lifts on Saturday and, Monday, everybody’s going to be good to go.”
Almost all welcome the state’s infusion of money for rental assistance and rapid rehousing, but some say it does little to lessen the need for the governor to further extend the state moratorium. They fear as many as 20,000 evictions when the moratorium is lifted, posing a public health issue during a pandemic.
“If [Baker] had had this program in place and announced it back in August or July and said, ‘We’re putting all these programs in place for when the moratorium hits,’ then that would make sense,” said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. “But, you cannot just put people out in the street.”
Baker, during a Tuesday news conference, likened extending the moratorium to “letting the problem fester.”
Prominent landlord groups largely have opposed further extensions of the moratorium, citing duress experienced by smaller landlords whose tenants have missed payments.
Two members of the Rental Housing Association of Berkshire County were unavailable for comment Thursday morning.
If the state moratorium expires Saturday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium would become binding in Massachusetts. The CDC moratorium, which expires Dec. 31, prevents removal for tenants who sign a declaration of economic hardship, but it does not stop landlords from starting eviction proceedings.
MassLandlords, a statewide group of property owners and managers, has discouraged landlords from filing for eviction if a renter submitted a declaration.
Yet, critics say that submitting a declaration can be daunting for people without familiarity with legal matters or those who have immigration status concerns.
Housing advocates are backing An Act to Guarantee Housing Stability, a bill that would prohibit “non-essential” evictions for a year after the state of emergency is lifted, while bolstering funding pathways for struggling landlords. It would start a fund providing grants and loans to landlords experiencing hardship, as well as a tax credit for residential landlords equal to the difference between tenants’ rent obligations and the payment collected.
It also would expand mortgage forbearance for small landlords and prohibit foreclosures for a year after the state of emergency.
MassLandlords has criticized the proposal as an “infinite moratorium” bill.
Supporters of the bill say there are some misconceptions, such as that it cancels rent. They say it also gives landlords more leeway than the initial eviction moratorium.
“We are not saying ‘flat out, no evictions,’ ” said Pamela Schwartz, executive director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness. “We are saying, ‘No evictions due to nonpayment due to COVID-19.”
Yet, some local observers have concerns that, even with the bill’s added support for smaller landlords, continuing to limit evictions could cause long-term harm to renters.
Brad Gordon, executive director and staff attorney for the Berkshire County Regional Housing Association, said he feared that the bill could lead to “greater affordability challenges as distressed properties are purchased by venture capital-backed entities.”
There is more agreement that Baker’s initiative is a step in the right direction.
“While there is no silver bullet that will completely resolve the current unprecedented situation, the proposed plan provides an array of resources to assist in the mitigation of a number of the potential challenges that tenants and rental property owners have been and will continue to contend with,” Gordon said. “Streamlining some of the mandated screening process elements for households should allow for quicker access to financial assistance programs.”
“This is just an enormous crisis, and Gov. Baker’s response is a drop in the bucket,” Schwartz said. “It’s a good drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop in the bucket nonetheless.”