Democrats on Beacon Hill on Friday stepped up pressure on Governor Charlie Baker to extend a statewide moratorium on evictions that is set to expire Aug. 18.
Ten members of the Legislature’s Housing Committee, including both chairs, sent a letter to Baker asking him to extend the eviction ban by 90 days. Attorney General Maura Healey, who says her office has stopped more than 70 illegal evictions since the ban took effect in April, also called for Baker to keep the ban in place beyond Aug. 18.
“This public health crisis continues to cause enormous financial hardship for people across our state and now is not the time for more people to become homeless,” Healey said in a statement. “It’s critical that Governor Baker extend this moratorium to ensure our residents have the resources and assistance they need to stay safe.”
The letters are the latest round in a debate that has escalated rapidly over if, and when, the eviction ban should end.
Housing advocates warn some 20,000 people could be pushed from their homes when Housing Courts reopen in Massachusetts, and that perhaps six times that many people could struggle to keep up with rent and mortgage payments after expanded unemployment benefits run out this month, unless the economy improves. State-by-state data released Friday showed that Massachusetts last month had the highest unemployment rate in the country, at 17.4 percent.
Those concerns over the potential mass displacement of people from their homes prompted a bill, filed Monday with nearly 90 cosponsors in the House and Senate, that would extend the eviction ban and freeze rent increases for at least a year. More than 200 community, labor, and religious groups, including the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops, have signed on in support of the measure. It was sent Thursday to the Legislature’s Housing Committee, but is among many items on Beacon Hill’s docket as it enters the final weeks of formal session.
And landlords are pushing back. Several dozen protested outside the State House on Thursday saying the moratorium — which blocks evictions but does nothing to help tenants pay rent — unfairly punishes property owners. Some landlord groups are instead supporting rent relief funds, which would help tenants keep up with payments if they’ve lost a job. Two landlords have sued to overturn the moratorium, their cases now pending in both state and federal courts.
“If we can’t pay the bills, we can’t maintain the property,” said Mitch Matorin, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the owner of a three-family building in Worcester where one of his tenants has stopped paying rent. “People are talking about having to sell their buildings over this.”
Baker, who under the law that created the moratorium can extend it up to 90 days at a time, has said he’s still studying the matter, and talking with advocates on all sides. He has allocated $20 million in rental assistance in recent weeks, but taken no position yet on extending the moratorium.
“We recognize and understand that we’re going to need to make a decision on that soon,” Baker told reporters Thursday. His representatives did not return messages seeking comment Friday.