A rash of evictions in Georgetowne
More than 100 tenants get notices to quit
Shelly Liriano was 30 weeks pregnant at the end of January when, after being exposed to COVID, her employer, Brigham and Women’s Hospital told her she had to leave her job as a personal care attendant.
She filed for paid leave, but expected to go several weeks without pay before relief would kick in. She immediately notified the management at Georgetowne Homes, the Hyde Park housing development where she lives with her three children.
But by the time her sick leave pay kicked in in March, she had missed two months’ rent and had received no response to her Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) application and no response from Georgetowne management.
Her first communication from Georgetowne’s management company, Beacon Properties, was an eviction notice she received in March. Liriano was one of more than 110 residents of the development who were served with eviction notices during a two-week period that month — earning Beacon Properties the distinction of being the Boston landlord with the greatest number of evictions during the pandemic.
“What Beacon Communities is doing is entirely unnecessary,” said Gary Klein, director of the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project of Greater Boston Legal Services.
But Beacon Communities CEO Dara Kovel says the company has been for the last year reaching out to tenants with phone calls and flyers in an attempt to help them avail themselves of rental assistance programs. The eviction notices were a last resort, she said.
“We were able to help 145 households,” she said. “There were another 120 who didn’t respond to our attempts.”
Under the Subsidized Housing Rental Assistance program(SHERA), for example, owners of income-restricted units, like those in Georgetowne, can apply for funds on behalf of all their tenants who are behind on rent due to pandemic-related issues. Klein points out that many housing authorities and private owners of subsidized units have used such funds to cover missed rental payments for tenants who were laid off or forced to stop working due to COVID exposure.
Liriano said she applied for RAFT, which provides assistance directly to renters, but Beacon Communities began eviction proceedings before she received any assistance.
The management company has named as defendants in Georgetowne 113 tenants, and in many cases, their minor children, a move that could make it difficult for even the children to find housing in the future.
“They’ve listed children as young as 11,” Klein said. “There’s no reason for them to do that.”
Kovel acknowledged that minors were incorrectly listed in eviction proceedings, and said Beacon Communities’ attorneys have worked with court officials to strike their names from paperwork.
“We’re waiting for verification from the court that this has been completed,” she said.
Klein said Beacon Communities stands out among affordable housing landlords for its mass eviction attempt.
“There’s no other property manager that’s filed evictions systematically against tenants in the middle of the pandemic,” he said.
Greater Boston Legal Services, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and the Harvard Law School Legal Services Center wrote a joint letter to Beacon Communities, urging the firm to dismiss its cases against its tenants and instead rely on the $900 million federal and state funds accessible through RAFT, SHERA and other housing assistance programs.
“If, as Beacon has recently assured one of our community partners, your company ‘remain[s] committed to our goal to keep our residents housed,’ you must cease mischaracterizing the filing of over 100 evictions in less than a month as an effort to ‘work together’ with residents and community organizations,” the letter reads. “Instead, you should pursue strategies for stabilizing housing and accessing rental assistance that do not involve spreading fear among Beacon’s tenants by means of widespread civil litigation and threats of eviction.”
Kovel said Beacon Communities has already helped 105 of the tenants apply for rental assistance and has dismissed their cases.
“We’re down to less than 20 households we’re trying to assist,” she said.
Liriano says she’s been to court twice, and twice her case has been continued. In the meantime, she has sought to pay her arrears, reaching out to the Beacon Communities office. But other than the eviction proceedings, she has not heard from the management company since she lost her job in January.
“I don’t know how much I’m supposed to pay,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on in their office.”
Liriano said it’s been stressful living with the threat of eviction over her.
“I still have to work,” she said. “I still have to take care of my kids.”
Helping other tenants fight their evictions is helping her cope with the stress. She’s been passing out flyers from City Life/Vida Urbana informing tenants of their rights and directing them toward legal help.
“A lot of people don’t know that this isn’t only happening to them,” she said.