In the two months since the City of Boston launched a $3 million fund to help lower-income tenants pay their rent in the coronavirus crisis, more than 8,000 people have raised their hands looking for help.
So now the city’s making it an $8 million fund and taking a new round of applications.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh is set Wednesday to add another $5 million to the Rental Relief Fund, the latest sign of just how hard the health and economic crises sparked by COVID-19 are hitting Boston residents. While a statewide moratorium on evictions has kept many people from being forced out of their homes for now, housing advocates warn that tenants who’ve lost jobs or income are at risk of quickly falling behind on rent, which could trigger a wave of evictions when the moratorium ends, likely in August.
“We know that many Bostonians are struggling," Walsh said in a statement. “And we know the need for assistance with housing payments remains, which is why we are proud to make available this additional funding for households who otherwise would be unable to make their rent payments.”
The program — which provides up to $4,000 in aid to income-eligible renters — received more than 5,000 initial applications in a week when it was launched in April, said Taylor Cain, who heads the city’s Housing Innovation Lab. Ultimately 1,600 people filed more-detailed final applications with nonprofit partners that are running the program, and more than $680,000 was distributed to 210 households for April and May rent. Since that round of funding closed, another 3,375 people have submitted forms indicating their interest, should new funding become available.
“We are constantly getting phone calls from people seeking help,” Cain said. “That spurred us to think about how we could find more resources.”
So the city set aside $5 million in federal CARES Act funding to launch a second round of the program. It will start taking new applications on Friday, with forms available at www.boston.gov/rentalrelief. Applications will be accepted until June 19. Households in Boston with earnings 80 percent or less than the area’s median income — up to $90,650 for a family of four — are eligible for up to $4,000 annually, depending on their income. Preference is given to people who aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, which includes many workers in hard-hit service and gig economy industries.
“The Boston Rental Relief Fund helps to relieve the fear and anxiety of losing your home in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis,” said Zoe Cronin, managing attorney of the housing unit at Greater Boston Legal Services. “This fund is critical because it helps those most in need and those not able to access other programs.”
There is growing worry in housing circles about the eventual eviction of renters who’ve lost jobs or income in the coronavirus crisis, which has eliminated more than 1 million jobs in Massachusetts alone since March. While the state Legislature has halted eviction proceedings, that moratorium is set to expire on Aug. 18, or sooner if Governor Charlie Baker ends the state of emergency by early July. And on Friday, a pair of landlords filed suit seeing to have the moratorium overturned in court.
Even if the moratorium holds, however, unpaid rent will eventually come due. In the meantime, landlords have bills of their own to pay. That has both tenant and landlord groups pushing for rental relief in any future federal stimulus bill. But that’s a long way off. For now, Cain said, Boston will do what it can to help.
“We’re really starting to get a sense of the extent of the need here,” she said.