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Freeze rent and mortgage payments? A city councilor is calling for that

Ricardo Arroyo.
Ricardo Arroyo.handout

A Boston city councilor is pushing for a halt to rent and mortgage payments, evictions, and foreclosures in the city amid the coronavirus crisis.

Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, a first-term member of the council who represents all of Hyde Park and parts of Roslindale and Mattapan, said such a freeze would reassure residents and provide housing security at a “time when social distancing, quarantine, and isolation are key procedures” in curbing the virus’s spread.

The proposal is a nonbinding resolution, meaning it would not have regulatory teeth. Still, Arroyo said Friday that the message it would send is an important one. He said no one should be in danger of losing their housing or business for following public health directives.

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“The folks who are going to have issues paying rents and mortgages — that’s an inevitability — and we need to actually deal with that reality,” he said during a phone interview with the Globe.

The City Council could consider the measure as early as next week.

The proposal has its critics.

Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, acknowledged there will be people with rent difficulties, but noted that major landlords and real estate groups in Boston earlier this month agreed to halt most evictions amid the crisis, something that should provide a safety net for renters in a financial pinch.

Telling everyone they do not have to pay rent would end up hurting the economy and the government, Vasil said. Without landlords collecting rent, he questioned how they would pay their bills and their employees wages.

“Then you’re in this death spiral and it goes straight to the bottom,” he said.

Arroyo fundamentally disagreed with that criticism.

“The fact of the matter is this protects properties,” he said. “If you’re a landlord and you have a property, you know you’re not going to lose it.”

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Vasil said something like a rent moratorium would have to come from state lawmakers, and he did not think the City Council or mayor would have the power to impose such a measure, which he referred to as “pure politics.”

“It’s selling hope,” he said. “It’s not real.”

Arroyo acknowledged it was legally unclear what lawmakers would have the power, in a public health emergency, to make such an initiative a reality. The point of the proposal, he said, is to call upon elected authorities “to really look at this problem coming down the pike and these folks having these real issues.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, speaking at a late Friday news conference, said a mortgage-and-rent moratorium was an idea worth looking at, noting that “many people are struggling right now.”

“These are conversations we need to have now,” he said.

Lisa Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana, a Jamaica Plain community advocacy group, supports Arroyo’s resolution and said Friday that the coronavirus crisis is “having a profound impact on the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable.” She called for legislators to quickly pass a statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium bill.

“We need all levels of government to intervene quickly to make sure that all residents have a wide social safety net that we can rely on during these uncertain and dangerous times,” she said.

Bloomberg News reported that President Trump was considering a plan to allow homeowners whose pay has been slashed to delay mortgage payments. Italy and Spain were also considering plans to delay tax payments and moratorium on mortgage payments, according to the news service.

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Additionally, Trump said Wednesday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which owns or finances millions of low-income apartments, would halt evictions, though HUD Secretary Ben Carson later said he is still “working with Congress” on the details.

The Boston Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing to more than 58,000 people, has already suspended all non-essential evictions while the public health emergency is ongoing.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that the authorities had directed mortgage servicers in that state to provide 90-day relief to borrowers affected by coronavirus.

That directive includes waiving mortgage payments based on financial hardship, no negative reporting to credit bureaus, a grace period for loan modification, no late-payment fees, and the postponement or suspension of foreclosures.

Tim Logan of Globe staff contributed to this report.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.