State Representative, Cambridge Democrat whose district includes parts of Somerville and Cambridge; longtime renter
Massachusetts renters are currently protected by the nation’s strongest eviction moratorium. Drafted in partnership with housing justice organizers and originally filed by myself and Representative Kevin Honan back in March, the moratorium — which also extends to foreclosures — was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker in April and remains in effect through at least Oct. 17.
However, with COVID-19 continuing to ravage our most vulnerable communities, with experts warning about the possibility of a “second wave” of infections later this year — and with deep economic hardship all around us — it is clear our state needs to take further action to extend eviction protections and provide relief for struggling tenants, homeowners, and landlords alike.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated in a recent report that 61,000 Massachusetts tenants who filed unemployment claims will have trouble paying their rent. We face what many are calling a “tsunami of evictions” once the eviction moratorium is lifted, one that will disproportionately impact communities of color, according to a recent report by the tenant rights’ group, City Life/Vida Urbana, and researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
To avert this looming disaster, I support extending the moratorium another year. In fact, a bill I recently filed with Representative Honan and Senator Pat Jehlen, in partnership with housing justice advocates, would go a step further, continuing the moratorium until a year after the state COVID emergency declaration expires, for tenants directly or indirectly impacted by COVID.
The US Centers for Disease Control recently imposed its own nationwide eviction moratorium through Dec. 31. Because our state’s moratorium is stronger, the federal rules do not apply to Massachusetts for now, but it serves as a second layer of protection that would take effect in the event the Massachusetts law expires.
No one should be thrown out onto the street in the middle of a pandemic. And in the context of COVID-19, everyone is safer when we are all protected from displacement. So far, we’ve made good progress ensuring Massachusetts tenants have that protection. But given the continued challenges posed by the pandemic and the economic meltdown, we need to ensure that housing stability continues.
Executive director, Small Property Owners Association; owner of rental properties in Somerville and Cambridge
Contrary to what some are claiming, no “tsunami of evictions” will happen if we lift the state moratorium. The courts will take up to six months or longer to process a year’s backlog of evictions. Landlords fear that non-paying tenants will continue not paying until finally evicted. As a result, landlords will be strongly motivated to cut deals, forgive all past-due rent, and set a new rent level, likely much lower than the previous rent.
But with an eviction moratorium, the tenant motivation to make a deal is weak or zero. Why pay any rent at all? Why move? Ending the eviction moratorium, on the other hand, would light a fire under non-paying tenants to make a deal for a lower rent or move to more affordable housing.
Continued non-payments can pose a severe financial burden on landlords, particularly small landlords in lower income neighborhoods, where rents are already low. In 2017, half of all gross rents in Boston were below $1,536, according to US Census data. One non-paying household can sink a small landlord if the nonpayment persists. Tenants are not being “bad” here, just responding as normal to their situation.
My organization, the Small Property Owners Association, is concerned not just to keep small landlords in business, but to stop permanent loss of low-rent housing and the resulting displacement of tenants. The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University reported a huge loss of low-rent housing nationwide in less than three decades. From 1990 to 2017, units with rents below $600 dropped from 46 percent of the nation’s total rental housing stock to just 25 percent — a shocking decline. When these units disappear, many low-income tenants lose their low-rents homes and the only available options are higher-rent apartments.
The early 1990s recession hit Lawrence hard. Factories closed, jobs were lost, and tenants were not paying rent. In 1991 alone, there were 148 arson fires. Other buildings were boarded up or abandoned. Much low-rent housing was lost. It can happen in any serious recession, just like now. We urge that all eviction moratoriums stop as soon as possible because the long-run impacts are disastrous.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.