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Legislators fight eviction with emergency bill

Bill filed by Honan, Connolly would extend moratorium for another year

Morgan C. Mullings

Governor Charlie Baker’s ban on evictions and foreclosures is set to end August 18 (or 45 days after the COVID-19 emergency is over), but legislators say there could be 20,000 evictions following the moratorium. A new bill, co-authored by Rep. Mike Connolly and Rep. Kevin G. Honan, aims to protect renters from evictions and foreclosures for a year after the emergency ends, in addition to stabilizing landlords during that time period.

In a virtual hearing July 2 led by Connolly, legislators in support of the bill, landlords and housing organizers spoke to the importance of passing this emergency act. Recently, researchers at MIT in partnership with City Life/Vida Urbana released data showing that evictions disproportionately affect Black neighborhoods in Boston, including during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This housing stability act is what renters and homeowners and small landlords need to be able to shelter in place, to be able to work together to get through this pandemic even stronger than we started,” said Lisa Owens, executive director at City Life/Vida Urbana.

In addition to backed-up eviction filings, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimates about 120,000 households will have trouble making housing payments once the emergency ends.

“We just need more time,” said Sellou Coly, a Boston landlord. “If the renters cannot pay the bill, I may not be able to pay my mortgage as well … with COVID, a lot of people have lost their jobs, including myself.”

Rep. Nika Elugardo of the 15th Suffolk District that includes parts of Boston and Brookline, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that the bill will give legislators more time to find lasting solutions to the housing crisis, as the pandemic didn’t create the problem.

“[The bill] gives us time to really think about how we’re going to put permanent solutions not only to protect tenants, not only to expand, but also to protect our low-income landlords and our moderate income landlords,” she said. While the bill does claim to stabilize landlords, it places special emphasis on owner-occupants and small-scale property owners.

While the governor’s eviction ban has kept residents in their homes, some landlords may have worked their way around that. Serah Muhangura, a Lynn resident, says she called her landlord to say she’ll be struggling with rent. In response, the company sent out a notice that the rent would be increased by about $200.

“And my landlord told me that they didn’t have a choice in the matter, that they’re going to take me to court for eviction process,” Muhangura said.

Co-sponsors say they need to get the housing stability act passed in the house and the senate by July 20, so that the governor has about 10 days to sign it into law by July 31, when the session ends. The act has a significant list of co-sponsors, and those on the call said they anticipate success, given the urgency surrounding it.

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