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Arroyo calls for moratorium on mortgages, rents

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Arroyo calls for moratorium on mortgages, rents
Ricardo Arroyo. BANNER PHOTO

Businesses are shutting down across Massachusetts, leaving thousands of residents without a source of income. Some are unable to buy groceries, let alone pay for larger expenses like health insurance or housing. District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo aimed to blunt the impact of COVID-19’s financial burden on Bostonians on Wednesday by calling for a moratorium on rents, mortgage, evictions and foreclosures.

“If we allow rents and mortgages to continue unabated, we face a future where renters and business owners owe crippling debt to the landlords, and landlords owe crippling debt to the banks,” Arroyo said during the online City Council meeting.

Arroyo cited a 2018 study, which found that half of all Bostonians pay one-third of their income on rent, and a quarter of all Bostonians pay half or more. Residents who have been laid off now fear for their current financial stability, said Arroyo. The proposed moratorium would suspend payments for an indefinite amount of time — until the end of the pandemic.

Other cities dealing with housing crises — including New York and San Francisco — have also considered implementing moratoriums. Both Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York have issued a mortgage moratorium, said Arroyo. The Los Angeles City Council recently moved to pass a city-wide moratorium on rent.

Arroyo’s order was not passed during the meeting. District 3 Councilor Frank Baker, adding that he was a landlord, invoked Rule 33, which bars adoption of an ordinance, order or resolution during the meeting at which it’s submitted, to prevent an immediate ruling.

“I believe it’s too complex,” he said. “I don’t think this is within our power, to call a moratorium on rent.” The order was instead assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development.

At-large Councilor Michelle Wu noted that COVID-19’s economic devastation will continue long after the public health crisis has dissipated, and communities of color will bear a disproportionate burden.

“The COVID epidemic has merely exposed vulnerabilities that were already in existence,” she said. For instance, she added, small businesses who were unable to qualify for loans in the first place have no source of help now.

Arroyo agreed.

“There are business owners who have poured their life into their businesses, and without rental relief are looking at shuttering those businesses forever,” he said.

Many of these are businesses owned by people of color. A recent survey from the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA) found that nearly half of respondents did not anticipate their business surviving longer than three months under the current crisis conditions.

District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell also acknowledged this disproportionate burden.

“Many residents, particularly those from our most vulnerable communities … will at the end of this, suffer greatly,” she said. “Not only in terms of economic loss, but also in terms of, probably, life.”

Campbell also noted that Mayor Martin Walsh recently called for the suspension of non-essential evictions. The eviction moratorium could last up to 90 days.

“Government’s job is to create policies that protect residents,” she said, expressing support for Walsh’s measure. “Not only now, but [to] ensure they can maintain stable housing in the future. No one should lose their home because of a pandemic.”

Walsh, addressing reporters during a March 25 briefing, said that Arroyo’s order for a citywide moratorium would be important as we move forward.

“There’s a lot of tenants and landlords that are struggling,” he said. “It’s something we need to have more than a conversation about, and some action on.”

Walsh also urged landlords and homeowners to talk to their banks about deferring mortgage payments. He said that banks may put the mortgage payments on the back end of a loan, without fees and penalties.

“I don’t think banks are in the business of wanting to take people’s homes from them,” he said. “And I think if they can keep people in their home and defer those payments to the back end of the mortgage, that’s important.”

The end is not yet in sight, and U.S. officials continue to respond to this unprecedented situation. After a national emergency declaration, the Senate approved a $2 trillion economic stimulus package on Wednesday — the largest in U.S. history. The House still needs to approve the package before the president signs it into law. The funds would provide economic aid to small businesses, potentially lessening financial hardship.

“COVID-19 has altered the world that we live in forever,” said Arroyo. He asked for a hearing on his order as soon as possible. “Every person who stays home contributes to the safety and health of each one of us in our communities,” he said. “But we cannot close businesses and mandate residents stay home without providing a remedy for the devastating harm those directives cost.”

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