Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boston Housing Authority is extending its moratorium on nonessential evictions through the end of the year, officials announced Friday.
The authority, which provides affordable housing to more than 58,000 residents in and around Boston, implemented the moratorium in March. The measure was aimed at creating housing stability for residents and reducing coronavirus risks associated with the processing eviction cases. The moratorium applies to BHA public housing residents, but not BHA voucher holders.
Amid the public health crisis, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council has estimated that 18,000 households in Boston are currently having a difficult time paying their rent.
“I want to commend BHA for once again setting the example for our city’s landlords,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh in a statement. “These are extraordinary times, and right now, we all need to come together to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable residents are able to continue to live and work in the city they call home. Our public housing communities are a critical and irreplaceable piece of the fabric of our city, and we want to make sure they are supported during these difficult times.”
There is a statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium slated to expire on Aug. 18. Regardless of whether Beacon Hill lawmakers extend that measure, the housing authority will not proceed with any nonessential evictions for the rest of the year, according to officials.
Authorities defined “nonessential evictions” as all eviction proceedings excluding ones that are linked to criminal activity and those that are necessary to protect public health.
Walsh’s office said that any BHA resident or voucher holder who is unable to pay current rent during the pandemic should notify their housing manager or landlord and establish a plan for repayment. Officials said that while there is an eviction moratorium currently in place, it is temporary, and tenants are still required to perform their contractual obligation to pay their rent.
Residents or voucher holders facing a financial hardship must reach out to their voucher provider or BHA to recertify their income and reduce their monthly payment, and financial assistance for rent is available through RAFT, a state homelessness prevention program, according to Walsh’s office.
“As we work to tackle an economic crisis and a public health emergency, it is critical that we take every step we can to ensure that our residents have stable housing,” BHA Administrator Kate Bennett said in a statement. “This moratorium buys critical time for our residents to weather the COVID-19 public health emergency until both of these crises have abated.”
Walsh has also written to state legislators supporting a bill that would provide legal representation to tenants and owner occupants in eviction proceedings whose incomes do not exceed 200 percent of the poverty level. The expiration of the statewide moratorium has officials bracing for a for a wave of evictions “that will once again disproportionately impact our most vulnerable residents,” said Walsh in his letter. Walsh said that before the moratorium, more than 90 percent of tenants were unrepresented in Massachusetts eviction proceedings.
“When the moratorium lifts in August, the court is projected to stage remote hearings, which will make it even more difficult for tenants to navigate without legal counsel,” said Walsh. “Black and Latino families have already dealt with the worst of the health, economic and housing impacts brought on by COVID-19 and they’re on track to be the most affected by evictions when the protections lift.”
Walsh’s Friday announcement comes days after WinnCompanies, which owns and manages more than 6,500 apartments at 51 buildings across the state, said it will halt all evictions at its properties through the end of the year for tenants who are struggling to pay rent.