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A lower threat of evictions, foreclosures in Mass., but trouble looms

For neighbor to the north, prospects are grimmer

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Bostonians face the increasing threats of eviction and foreclosure as winter’s grip grows tighter on New England and a global pandemic continues to put a giant question mark over economic recovery.

But, believe it or not, things could be worse.

“Massachusetts laws — and I’d argue laws in New York, California, and other states like us — this is a very long process, and people have opportunities to redeem,” said Larry DiCara, a Boston-based real estate lawyer and former Boston City Council president. “Banks tend to be prepared to rewrite mortgages, and I think, generally speaking, nobody likes to foreclose. Nobody likes to evict. It is expensive, and it is unpleasant.”

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There is no question there is an eviction crisis facing the state. A Massachusetts eviction moratorium instated to offset the negative impact of the pandemic ended in late October, putting more renters at risk of eviction. Lower-income areas like Springfield, Fall River, and Worcester saw a greater rise in eviction filings than cities like Boston and Cambridge.

Things are still relatively better in the Bay State than elsewhere in the country, including a northern neighbor.

Nearly 27 percent of the Massachusetts adult population is at risk of eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, which measures weekly state data on the pandemic’s impact on housing. While this is a high number, it is below the national average: roughly 36 percent.

New Hampshire is the second-most vulnerable state in the country, with a little more than 63 percent of its adult population living in an unstable housing situation. Rhode Island has the best position in the survey, with only a little more than 14 percent of its population facing the “likelihood of eviction or foreclosure.”

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“The picture is not great when it comes to housing stability for families, both on the eviction and foreclosure front,” said Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of the community development organization Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA). “However, I am hopeful things will get a bit better, but before we get there, there are a lot of concerns.”

Unemployment benefits, included in the initial $2 trillion coronavirus relief measure passed in March, eventually expired while Congress delayed the second round of aid. The lack of benefits was a blow to housing stability for many, Calderón-Rosado said.

But housing advocates are somewhat optimistic with respect to the threat of evictions and foreclosures due to the passage last month of another round of federal pandemic relief. Along with an additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, the $900 billion aid package also allocated $25 billion in emergency rental assistance for states and municipalities. The measure also extended a federal eviction moratorium from the end of last year to the end of this month.

“The relief bill that was just enacted by Congress, I think, is a great step in making sure people can stay housed,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president for research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “We know that’s important in this immediate short-run, but we also know in the longer term it’s not enough.”

The emergency rental assistance is significantly less than the $100 billion minimum the coalition estimated was needed to guarantee low-income renters would be protected from evictions, but the organization is still grateful Congress managed to provide even the smaller figure. While the one-month eviction moratorium may seem small, it gives time for the federal government to disburse the rental assistance.

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“There are glimpses of hope there to at least get families through the winter, but the picture is a difficult one and people are under a lot of stress,” Calderón-Rosado said.

The IBA chief executive is hopeful the incoming Biden administration and new Congress will enact further relief as the pandemic continues to fuel housing instability. Renters with IBA, which developed the Villa Victoria housing community in the South End, may be in a stronger position. The larger landlord has a network of staff able to assist tenants with applications for rental assistance and receives subsidies to help soften the blow if a tenant falls behind on rent, Calderón-Rosado said.

But Greater Boston isn’t known for being a city packed with major landlords who can be flexible at the end of each month. Many times, it is the owner of a three-decker who lives in one unit and rents out the other two to pay the mortgage.

“They are often the people in trouble,” DiCara said. “If hypothetically nobody pays rent, then nobody pays the mortgage. Then you really have a problem.”

Cameron Sperance can be reached at camsperance@gmail.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.

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