City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell urged Acting Mayor Kim Janey to impose a local moratorium on evictions in Boston, citing the risk of displacing families in the midst of a still-raging pandemic and a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
“Housing stability is essential to keep Bostonians safe and healthy in the city of Boston, especially amidst a deadly pandemic,” Campbell said during a press conference outside Housing Court Monday. “This is action the city of Boston can take at the local level.”
Somerville and Malden have local eviction bans in place, while Cambridge did until its pandemic state of emergency ended in June. But in Boston, the acting mayor did not leap on the issue, instead pointing to steps already being taken to help tenants who have fallen behind on rent amid the economic pressures of the pandemic.
“We are committed to ensuring Boston residents get the help they need to remain securely in their homes,” a Janey spokeswoman said in a statement.
Alarm about a possible wave of evictions is growing after the Supreme Court last week overturned a federal moratorium launched by former president Donald Trump last year and extended by Biden earlier this month.
An analysis by economists with Goldman Sachs estimated that 750,000 renter households nationwide could be evicted in the coming months without the protections, and that tenants owe as much as $17 billion in back rent due to pandemic-related job loss. On Friday, top Biden administration officials urged state and local governments to enact moratoria of their own.
In Massachusetts, which had some of the nation’s strictest eviction protections until a state moratorium ended last October, lawmakers have passed a measure preventing eviction of anyone with a pending application for rental assistance, and the Baker administration has urged courts to slow down cases and encourage tenants and landlords toward mediation.
City Councilor Julia Mejia, who is not a candidate and has not endorsed one in the mayor’s race, also called for an eviction moratorium in Boston, especially for elders facing foreclosure. And, she said, it’s crucial to educate renters of the rights they already have.
“Only a judge can evict you and a notice to quit is not an eviction,” Mejia said in a statement. “We also have rental relief funds available, and we need to make sure that that money is getting into the hands of the people who need it the most.”
Despite politicians’ concerns, Housing Court in Boston was quiet Monday morning, with just two women waiting to seek help. Mike Neville, the acting court clerk magistrate, said he was not expecting a sudden crisis, pointing to the many programs made available to renters amid the pandemic.
“There’s still plenty of funds out there,” Neville said.
But many advocates say that money has been slow to get into the hands of those who need it.
Through the end of July, the state has doled out roughly $225 million in rental aid to more than 35,000 households. That’s out of $900 million allocated by Congress in COVID relief bills over the last year, along with state funds.
The aid programs need to move faster, said State Senator Pat Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat who filed a bill that would require landlords to seek state rental assistance before moving to evict tenants.
“The money is there,” she said. “You want the money in the hands of people who need it so they can spend it on rent. Then that will give them money to spend on food.”
In Boston, Janey announced earlier this year that $50 million in federal funding would go to a rental relief fund, to help city residents pay their rent and prevent evictions. But only $19 million has been distributed to date, to about 3,500 households across the city, according to the Janey administration.
A spokeswoman said that’s because the relief will be needed through the pandemic and noted that the city’s distribution rate has outpaced the average for Massachusetts and the nation. The Office of Housing Stability is also proactively contacting every Boston resident threatened with eviction to make them aware of their rights and offer help.
Those efforts are helping, said John Barros, another mayoral candidate and head of economic development under former mayor Martin J. Walsh. He noted Boston is faring better than many places at staving off evictions, and said it’s essential to encourage landlords to work with their tenants. But he stopped short of calling for a ban.
“The City of Boston should be focused on educating residents and distributing information about the City’s Rental Relief Fund,” Barros said. “It can provide up to $15,000 to eligible families to help cover rent and utilities, provide peace of mind, and educate them on their rights.”
Likewise, another mayoral candidate, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, called for investing resources in the Office of Housing Stability, not blocking evictions through a city moratorium.
“I’m interested to see what the state’s going to do,” Essaibi George said. “I don’t know whether Boston needs to do their own.”
“We got to think about protecting residents from eviction, we got to stabilize housing, we got to build more affordable housing,” Essaibi George said during a walk around a Dorchester neighborhood with local community leaders.
Campbell said the city could do more, calling to streamline rental aid programs and suggesting the Office of Housing Stability, the city’s one-stop shop for renters, is understaffed and needs more resources. The Janey administration countered that the office’s staff has increased from 8 to 11 and has forged partnerships with nonprofits to help city residents tap into state aid.
Absent protections, evictions will climb, and will continue to disproportionately hurt families of color, Campbell warned. She pointed to research showing that in the early weeks of the pandemic, 78 percent of evictions filed in the city of Boston were in census tracts where the majority of residents were people of color.
“This is not just about housing justice,” Campbell said. “This is about racial justice. This is about economic justice.”
The candidates, along with City Councilor Michelle Wu, are vying for the Sept. 14 preliminary election for mayor of Boston. The two candidates with the most votes in that election will face off in the November general election.
Globe Staff writers Danny McDonald and Emma Platoff contributed to this report.