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Activists seek protections for renters, landlords

COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill would curb just cause evictions

Avery Bleichfeld
Activists seek protections for renters, landlords
Tenant Activist Noemi Rodriguez addresses demonstrators. PHOTO: Avery Bleichfeld

Gathering just over a year after the state’s eviction moratorium expired, advocates from the statewide Homes For All Massachusetts coalition met in front of the Statehouse Thursday to call on legislators to pass a bill designed to protect Massachusetts residents from evictions and foreclosures.

Activists and renters facing evictions described the hardships facing residents across the state and the bill they see as the solution, the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill, which would prioritize rental relief over evictions and would protect renters and homeowners struggling to pay rents or mortgages for pandemic-related reasons.

It would also limit evictions to only those with just cause until June 2022, one year after the end of the state of emergency — and would place emphasis on relief for the most vulnerable residents and those hit hardest by the pandemic for the distribution of relief funds.

Right to the City Boston co-Director Andres Del Castillo. PHOTO: Avery Bleichfeld

Isaac Simon Hodes, director of Lynn United for Change Empowerment Project, said that people in need across the state have been waiting too long for legislators to take action.

“We waited and waited and waited for the Legislature to act with urgency to pass this bill and protect our people from needless foreclosures and evictions,” Hodes said. “We’re still waiting, and we’re here today, with this caution tape, to tell them this is urgent in our communities and that they need to move with agency here in the Statehouse.”

Andres Del Castillo, co-director of Right to the City Boston, said that state officials need to see the real struggles Massachusetts residents are facing.

“Elected officials at the local, at the state, at the national level talk about addressing the wealth gap in this country; they’re waiting for their elite university research, a think-tank summary to tell them where the problem is and how to fix it,” Del Castillo said. “This is the problem, that when working-class people need real solutions, they turn away.”

Residents in Boston who spoke at the event called for the attention of the state government.

Mattapan resident Betty Lewis, who is fighting increases in her rent with the help of City Life/Vida Urbana, said it is up to the legislators to help renters.

“It’s not healthy for us to be on the streets; I might get sick with this virus still around,” Lewis, who has fought cancer and other health struggles, said. “It’s your fault; it’s your business. Please take care of us. We take care of you. We put you there, so now take care of us.”

Noemi Rodriguez, an East Boston resident, invoked the language used to describe many workers at the start of the pandemic in her plea.

“This is the moment that the legislators think about how we are here, surviving, and that they remember that we are the working class and essential to the country, and that they don’t forget about us,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “That’s why we’re here, fighting to stop evictions.”

There is also a public health interest to addressing evictions and foreclosures in the state, said Jeneczka Roman, advocacy and coalition manager at the Massachusetts Public Health Association. She said it is important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.

“COVID-19 isn’t over, the public health crisis isn’t over,” Roman said. “We are in crisis, and keeping residents safely housed is critical to protecting the public health, especially as the commonwealth is challenged in ensuring equitable access to vaccines and we’re struggling to contain the virus.”

Simon Hodes said that evictions against residents who struggle to pay rent during the pandemic will leave a lasting mark.

Speaking of the renters who described their struggle at the protest, Hodes said, “They have permanent marks on their record that will make it harder for them to find housing in the future, just because they were impacted by this pandemic.”

State Rep. Mike Connolly, who serves the 26th Middlesex District and is a co-sponsor of the bill, said he is proud to bring the message of the protesters into the Statehouse.

Connolly said that the state has the resources to help renters, and the bill is an important step to get them out to the people who need them.

“We can’t afford to have any further evictions. Some in the building tell us, ‘We have so much rental assistance money. Do we really need to pass a housing equity bill?’ Yes, we do,” Connolly said. “I say to them, with hundreds of millions of dollars on hand to help tenants, why wouldn’t we pass the housing equity bill?”

Meanwhile, advocates said they will keep pushing for the bill.

“I’m going to keep fighting until I can’t fight no more,” Lewis said.