City leaders are taking measures to protect Boston’s tenants as the statewide halt on evictions approaches its Oct. 17 expiration.
To address the potential impact of the moratorium ending, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced the City will move to curtail evictions while connecting those who are evicted with the resources available to them.
Walsh detailed the Housing Stability Notification Act at a press conference Wednesday. If passed by the City Council, the act would require property owners to provide tenants with information on their rights and the resources available to them while serving a notice of nonrenewal — one of the first steps in the eviction process in Massachusetts.
“We’re facing a potential crisis,” Walsh said. “As a city, we must use the power of what we have to provide whatever we can do to help.”
The ordinance would also require landlords and foreclosing owners to notify the Boston Home Center, a division of the Department of Neighborhood Development, when serving notice to a tenant.
Gov. Charlie Baker had originally signed in April the emergency law that temporarily prohibited evictions and foreclosures until Aug. 18, barring “non-essential” evictions from taking place, including in cases of missed rent payments.
Baker later extended the moratorium for 60 days, but as the new end date approaches, the state has not indicated whether more extensions will follow.
In addition to the ordinance, Walsh said the City’s Office of Housing Stability will send a mailer to 46,000 households believed to be at risk for eviction. The mailers would inform tenants of their options if they were to receive a notice to quit.
The OHS will hold neighborhood community meetings to share information on housing resources and help tenants apply for a moratorium declaration from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the City’s website.
The CDC issued its own federal moratorium on evictions in September that will last until Dec. 31. Unlike the state moratorium, the CDC order requires tenants fill out a specific declaration form to submit to their landlords.
Walsh announced the creation of a special “Housing Stability Pledge” between the City and landlords across Boston. Landlords who sign the pledge agree to honor the federal eviction moratorium, work to prevent evictions after the state moratorium ends and help connect tenants with resources, in addition to other actions.
“We have 25 property owners around the city of Boston, managers who provide housing to low income renters and have agreed to sign a pledge,” Walsh said during the press briefing.
The agreement was created with assistance from DND, which manages OHS and is one of the resources residents are directed to for eviction help, Alexander Sturke, the Department’s director of communications, said.
Sturke said the department works to prevent evictions, and that acts like the proposed ordinance and the landlord agreement could be essential to doing so.
“It just feels like common sense,” Sturke said. “[It] makes sense from an ethical standard that if you are going to go and evict someone, first, share with them resources that might help them to not be evicted, let them know what their rights are under the law and then help direct them to resources.”
Sturke said there is concern over what will happen immediately after Oct. 17, because the OHS may see a large volume of requests for assistance due to an uptick in evictions once the moratorium is lifted.
The next steps for the mayor’s ordinance, Sturke said, depend on when the City Council holds a hearing to vote on it. He said the City hopes to have the hearing before Oct. 21.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who had served as the senior adviser for policy and planning at the Boston Housing Authority before her election, said she supports Walsh’s proposed pledge.
“I think it’s a great step and it falls into the category of the City really throwing the kitchen sink at the problem,” Bok said. “The problem, of course, is it’s not going to capture anybody who’s living with a landlord who doesn’t sign up for the pledge.”
Bok said Baker should extend the state moratorium further, especially when criteria to apply for the CDC’s federal moratorium are stricter and could potentially be difficult to enforce for immigrant and undocumented communities.
Undocumented individuals may also have trouble benefitting from the landlord pledge, Bok said, because many of the pledge signers have been largescale affordable housing owners with verification requirements.
Some affordable housing communities require individuals to prove they are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens, according to the BHA.
The situation has created stress for many residents, especially those living in low-income households, Bok added. She said the “systemic anxieties” that come with worrying about housing cannot be underestimated, especially for families.
“I’ve interacted with a lot of low-income families that really pride themselves on paying their rent every month,” Bok said. “So, when they can’t do it during [COVID-19], because of an illness or a job loss, and then they’re looking at that bill increasing, it just causes an enormous amount of stress.”
Bok said the government has a responsibility to help people deal with the effects of this pandemic.
“I just think that this is just like a natural disaster. I mean, it’s something that has happened to people through no fault of their own,” Bok said. “And it’s really what government relief is designed to address.”
Stefanie Coxe, executive director of the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, said low-income tenants in Boston who qualify can access state funds to help renters and homeowners make their payments.
RHN is a trade association that represents the regional agencies across the state that administer housing programs on behalf of the Department of Housing and Community Development. Coxe said that among these programs, Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, along with Emergency Rent and Mortgage Assistance, have been essential during the pandemic.
Coxe said the statewide moratorium was well timed because the Commonwealth passed the eviction moratorium just as COVID-19 began to send the state into lockdown.
“The administration and legislative leadership have been very open to hearing concerns,” Coxe said, “particularly from our perspective.”
Requests made by RHN Massachusetts have included streamlining the application process, adjusting documentation policies and other steps to make applying for assistance easier for those who need it. Coxe said the organization has also made requests to the state legislation for additional RAFT funding.
Emergency rental and mortgage assistance have been heavily sought after, Coxe said. Though demand is high, she said she recommends those who need the assistance apply immediately.
“If you lose your job today and you know that you’re not going to be able to make the rent next month, you can file now,” Coxe said. “The rent is still due, but there is help available. But, there are a lot of families, a lot of households in line ahead of you, so it’s really critical not to wait.”