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Housing Court postpones evictions due to COVID-19 outbreak

Eileen O'Grady
Housing Court postpones evictions due to COVID-19 outbreak
Activists with City Life/Vida Urbana demonstrate in front of the Edward Brooke Court House for a halt to evictions during the coronavirus public health emergency. Banner photo

The Massachusetts Housing Court is postponing evictions in the state due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Chief Justice Timothy Sullivan of the Massachusetts Housing Court issued an order on March 13 ordering that, beginning March 18, all non-emergency court events, including small claims matters, civil matters and summary process cases — also known as eviction cases — will be postponed until at least April 21, 2020.

Sullivan wrote that the Housing Court’s reasons for issuing the order are to reduce the number of people in the courthouse on any given day and to promote social distancing to reduce risk of exposure to both litigants and court staff.

“Housing court is not a safe place for people to be right now,” said Helen Matthews, communications manager for the local housing activist group City Life/Vida Urbana. “People are often forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for the judge. It becomes just like petri dishes for the virus.”

City Life/Vida Urbana, a Jamaica Plain-based organization that helps tenants facing displacement, has been advocating for a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis, and sees the order as a victory.

However, the group believes the order is insufficient because it does not apply to residents who have already been issued an eviction order. They also believe it should postpone for longer than April 21.

“How can we hear, on one hand, we need to stay home and protect ourselves from this virus, while at the same time we are having corporate landlords throwing people out of their homes?” Matthews said.

In the Massachusetts Statehouse, Reps. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge-Somerville) and Kevin Honan (D-Allston-Brighton) are still pushing to pass Bill HD.4935, comprehensive legislation that would put a full moratorium on evictions and foreclosures while in a state of emergency due to coronavirus. They started working on the legislation on March 10, after Gov. Charlie Baker declared the state of emergency.

“We have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable and mitigate the impact of this pandemic, which is why Rep. Honan and I filed this legislation,” Connolly told the Banner. “A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures will protect public health and safety by keeping vulnerable residents housed, thereby reducing crowding within the courts and in shelters. This will in turn limit further disruptions and additional strain on our already fractured social safety net and health care system.”

Matthews says City Life/Vida Urbana hopes the legislation will be passed immediately to protect residents from being evicted during the COVID-19 emergency.

“We’re very concerned that it’s a large number of people who could get a knock on their door at any minute by a constable who says, ‘You have to pack up and leave in 48 hours,’” Matthews said. “No one should be forced out of their homes during a public health emergency.”

This article was produced by The Scope, a project of the Northeastern University School of Journalism.

coronavirus, public health emergency
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