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Activists seek extension of eviction moratorium

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Activists seek extension of eviction moratorium
Gov. Charlie Baker is has dedicated a total of $171 million in state funding to an Eviction Diversion Initiative aimed at helping tenants who are losing their housing. PHOTO: JOSHUA QUALLS, GOVERNOR’S PRESS OFFICE

Despite pressure by activists, the lawmakers have not yet acted on legislation that would extend the statewide eviction moratorium beyond its Oct. 17 deadline.

Gov. Charlie Baker Monday announced $112 million in new funding to an Eviction Diversion Initiative and said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s nationwide moratorium will protect Massachusetts renters and landlords.

The resources in the Eviction Diversion Initiative will include more money for rapid rehousing programs, legal representation and mediation outside of court between landlords and renters. The RAFT program, which has provided relief to renters and families affected by COVID-19, will receive an additional $100 million in this fiscal year.

Baker’s bill doesn’t got far enough, say activists who are in the midst of a week of action that started Oct. 6. On Wednesday, Oct. 14, organizers with Homes for All Massachusetts, City Life/Vida Urbana and more were set to march and drive from Red Rock Park in Lynn to the governor’s home in Swampscott to demand that he pledge to sign the Housing Stability Act, which is currently being debated in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

“We need the state Legislature and governor to truly protect tenants, homeowners, and small-scale landlords by immediately passing and enacting the Housing Stability Act (H.5018). That is the only way to ensure people are not forced out of their homes and into overcrowded conditions that will put lives at risk by sparking new outbreaks of coronavirus infection,” Homes for All Massachusetts said in a statement. “If stronger action is not taken, families around the state will be forced from their homes and working-class people and communities of color will be hurt most of all.”

Activists in support of the bill believe that passing the Housing Stability Act, which will provide direct support for landlords and renters and extend the moratorium statewide for a year after the pandemic state of emergency is lifted, is the only way to stop about 100,000 evictions from being processed. Some evictions are happening anyway, outside of official court filings.

State Rep. Mike Connolly, who authored the original draft of the bill with Rep. Kevin Honan, said that the governor introducing similar funding without consulting the legislators or their constituents is disappointing.

“I think that there has been a remarkable effort among the housing justice organizers and legal service advocates to bring people together to craft proposals, and to organize and engage in the public process,” Connolly told the Banner. He pointed out that the governor’s plan includes bringing back retired judges to trial courts to handle the eviction case load.

“What I see is the voices of those who have been most impacted by COVID-19, the voices of those who have been most impacted by the housing emergency … Those voices are being marginalized, as the governor literally announces plans to hire more judges to throw people out onto the street,” Connolly said.

The CDC’s moratorium lasts until the end of December. During that time, according to the governor’s press release, “Courts will accept filings and process cases, and may enter judgments but will not issue an order of execution (the court order that allows a landlord to evict a tenant) until after the expiration of the CDC order. Protection is limited to households who meet certain income and vulnerability criteria.”

The declaration form households must file includes the criteria that they would likely become homeless if evicted and that they understand that a landlord may require all missed payments after Dec. 31, 2020.

The governor’s initiative has received support from Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the MassLandlords trade association. Maddox said that the funding will help the state reach thousands of households and prevent eviction.

Though the Baker Administration did not specify where the new initiative’s funding is coming from, Connolly said it is likely CARES Act federal funding from earlier this year.

“It almost feels as if the money has been held back for this moment, so that when they lift the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, they can then point to this chunk of money,” he said.

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