City, Coronavirus, News

Pandemic-struck Massachusetts to parcel out $20 million in housing relief

Gov. Charlie Baker announced a $20 million fund on Tuesday to support individuals and households experiencing difficulties paying for housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker created a fund of $20 million to assist individuals and households facing housing insecurity due to COVID-19. COURTESY OF MARK HERLIHY/ HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE

The Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program will allot up to $4,000 each household for use toward rental and mortgage payments, according to the state’s press release.

ERMA provides more financial support than the state’s original Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, and those who do not qualify for RAFT can apply for ERMA.

The fund is backed by federal resources, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Alexander Sturke, director of communications of Boston’s Neighborhood Development wrote in an email that in addition to the moratorium on evictions, the City is working on other initiatives to protect people’s housing.

“In response to the pandemic the City initiated two rounds of the Rental Relief Fund totaling $8 million,” Sturke wrote, “which provides rental assistance to Boston residents who are experiencing difficulty.”

The Rental Relief Fund has aided more than 300 households, Sturke wrote.

The Boston Housing Authority will also distribute city-funded vouchers to aid in subsidizing rents, and has expanded its Acquisition Opportunity Program, which funds affordable housing.

Doug Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, a non-profit that helps landlords rent their properties, said Baker’s proposed $20 million will not cover the financial losses landlords are currently facing.

“It’s nowhere near enough,” Quattrochi said. “We think roughly $1 billion is going to be required.”

Many landlords are at a loss amid the pandemic, Quattrochi said.

“Five percent of our members are trying to sell, exit the business,” Quattrochi said, “and another 20 percent are unsure how they’re going to pay their bills through the end of this year.”

In addition to more funding, Quattrochi said MassLandlords is advocating for a “fair and equal housing guarantee” to protect landlords. This would be done through surety bonds — legally binding contracts between a landlord, government agency and insurer — that would ensure landlords still get paid.

“The idea is that we should be able to guarantee all rental housing and pay for it out of future tax revenue,” Quattrochi said, “however long it takes.”

Joe Kriesburg, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, wrote in an email that ERMA will benefit nearly 4,000 households.

However, Kriesburg wrote that government funding serves as a temporary solution to the longer-lasting consequences of the pandemic.

“The problem is much bigger than that so we will need more money,” Kriesburg wrote. “The eviction moratorium is keeping people housed, but eventually people will need financial assistance to stay in their apartments.”

Kelly Turley, associate director of Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said ERMA is important for those in need, but said the $20 million is limiting.

“The new $20 million through [ERMA] is an important investment from the state that helps families and individuals avoid homelessness and maintain their housing,” Turley said, “but we know that those resources aren’t going to be enough.”

Turley said many are experiencing difficulties with homelessness and a lack of resources because of the pandemic.

“Thousands of households are really struggling, either experiencing homelessness and dealing with limited access to shelters and resources,” Turley said, “or struggling to maintain their existing housing.”

The program will primarily benefit households with between 50 and 80 percent of the area-median income, Turley said. Meanwhile, the Coalition focuses on a companion program that supports households below the 50-percent median income.

A disproportionate amount of Black and Latinx families have been affected by homelessness in Massachusetts, Turley said, adding that nearly 75 percent of homeless people in Massachusetts identified as either Black or Latinx in 2019.

“This new ERMA program also will be really important to address issues of racial inequity,” Turley said.

It is important to have proper housing and resources, Turley said, in order to address these racial disparities and ensure protection from homelessness.

“We’re grateful for these initial investments,” Turley said, “and hope that the Baker administration and the legislature keep up the conversation as well as the action to make the investment to help households secure their living situations during the pandemic and beyond.”

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