With the state moratorium on evictions set to expire this week, protesters gathered around the Brewer Fountain on Boston Common on Sunday and rallied in support of a bill that would extend the ban.
In a speech Sunday, Somerville City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen likened lifting the moratorium to “pouring lighter fluid on embers.”
“It will be a catastrophe," he said.
Advocates said the bill, which would need to pass both branches of the Legislature and gain the signature of Governor Charlie Baker, would spare more than 100,000 struggling households from displacement due to the pandemic.
“We are just so anxious about what’s going to happen after Oct. 17," when the ban expires, said Lisa Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana, the tenants’ rights group that planned Sunday’s event.
“This is a crisis we can avert," she said in a phone interview. "The clock is ticking.”
Advocates have been ratcheting up pressure on elected officials, with dozens marching in Chelsea last week and Boston city councilors leaning on Mayor Martin J. Walsh to take action.
Walsh said major property managers had committed to delaying evictions after Oct. 17, and he is pushing a measure that would require landlords to provide information about legal rights along with eviction notices, which some advocates say does not go far enough.
Baker has said he is not in favor of extending the moratorium, and Owens said advocates plan to protest outside Baker’s Swampscott home on Wednesday.
“I know that Baker sees what we see, and certainly he must be aware of this tidal wave of evictions that are threatening the state that he governs, and we are calling on him to do the right thing,” Owens said.
Although a federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures is in place through December, Owens estimated more than 100,000 Massachusetts households will not be protected because the measure does not apply to low- and moderate-income homeowners, who could face foreclosure; small landlords with only one or two units; and many renters who don’t qualify or who are cowed by the legal process.
“I think the crisis is so big — and we haven’t seen anything like this in the state before — there is some skepticism [about] could it really happen here,” she said.
With winter approaching and many more COVID-19 infections possible, she said, hundreds of thousands of people across the state could be scrambling to find shelter, even pushed out onto the streets.
“We have to begin imagining the worst-case scenario,” she said.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Mike Connolly of Cambridge, said at the rally that passing it could be difficult, particularly since there are no formal House sessions this week.
He said Baker may have his own plan to offer financial assistance, legal support, and a public information campaign. But Connolly is skeptical of an initiative that he said “is getting pulled together ridiculously fast without any input from the public" and which could still let the most vulnerable “fall through the cracks.”
Connolly said the stakes could not be higher.
The hundred or so people at Sunday’s rally surrounded a 6-foot sign reading “Eviction Free Zone” and carried handmade banners and placards supporting the bill, including several that said “Stop 100,000+ Evictions.”
Julia Koehler, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at Children’s Hospital who attended the rally, said she has not been a housing advocate in the past. But the prospect of evictions during the pandemic scares her, she said.
“I honestly think there will be a correlation between evictions and death rates,” she said. “It’s that stark.”
Some see the bill as the only thing that stands between them and the streets.
Betty Lewis, 69, said she has been fighting the company that took over management of her Mattapan apartment of 38 years. She drains her accounts each month to meet expenses and still hasn’t been able to afford the rent increase put in place two years ago, leaving her thousands of dollars behind in rent.
If the bill does not pass, "I got to worry,” Lewis said, expressing concern about the resumption of eviction notices, the paperwork, and the court appearances.
“It’s a scary feeling,” she said as the rally wound down. “Deep in your heart you say, ‘Where are you going to go?’ "
Lucas Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.