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Council probes mayor’s housing stability plan

Councilor Lydia Edwards proposes changes to plan’s tenant protections

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO

Before voting on a housing ordinance affecting Boston renters and landlords, city councilors discussed the effectiveness of the Mayor Martin Walsh’s changes after the statewide eviction moratorium recently ended.

The City Council’s Committee on Government Operations, led by District 1 Councilor Lydia Edwards, focused solely on the language of the ordinance to make sure that tenants are protected and landlords are held accountable during a time where fear of eviction is high.

Walsh’s Housing Stability Notification Act would require landlords, when they file a notice to quit, to provide tenants basic information about tenant rights and resources. If they do not, tenants should file a complaint to the city’s Office of Fair Housing and Equity. Landlords must also file with the city’s Office of Housing Stability a copy of their notice to quit or notice of lease non-renewal.

This sparked concerns about tenant privacy.

“When you choose to go to court, that’s private information. Now, that is going to a public agency,” Edwards said during the hearing, pointing to Freedom of Information Act requests landlords could file with the city. “If I’m a landlord, and I already get to go through the court records right now to see who is pending an eviction, now I get to go to the Office of Housing Stability, submit a public records request every Friday and get a list of all the people who are potentially being evicted,” she continued.

Chief of Housing and Neighborhood Development Sheila Dillon, who attended the hearing along with others from her department, said that the information will likely be protected under privacy concerns.

“But we do feel that if our office received this information, that it’s valuable information,” Dillon said.

While the attendees acknowledged the governor’s recently announced $171 million in housing assistance allocated this fiscal year for the whole state, Dillon said they can’t specify whether the Eviction Diversion Initiative will be enough for Boston.

Due to the urgent nature of the mayor’s ordinance, Edwards submitted a few changes, intended for the final draft for Wednesday’s vote. The state’s eviction moratorium ended Oct.17, and Dillon said it is likely that her office will be receiving calls from tenants who don’t know what to do if they can’t pay their rent.

Edwards’ suggestions included an annual mailing to tenants and the inclusion of rights and resources in the lease as well, similar to documents about building information that one receives before moving in. She also suggested that, when the Office of Housing Stability fines a landlord $300 per day for not informing tenants of their rights, that money should be redirected to families unhoused during the pandemic.

Dillon said that this could require a difficult reconfiguration of their budget.

“But I think it’s an interesting idea that we could explore quickly,” she added.

The final draft that Edwards presented Wednesday has three major changes: The city can make eviction records public with the tenant’s permission, the mayor and the Boston Public Health Commission must file an emergency order stopping landlords from entering homes to enforce eviction, and the city may collect fines for violating the ordinance and put it toward rent relief.

“[The ordinance] is doing the most that probably the city can do,” Edwards told the Banner before the vote. “But what we need is for the state to act on so many measures.”

She said that $171 million in total relief statewide is not enough, because Boston already needed $100 million on its own.

“Think about it this way: This is onetime [funding] this year. What happens if the pandemic goes on for another year or two? There’s no plan. This is assuming that the pandemic is ending soon. It’s not,” she said.