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Evictions increase sharply over last year

As federal programs, funding expire, more tenants forced out

Diego Lopez

The number of evictions filed each week in Boston is up nearly 75% from last year, according to new data released by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, looking at the four-week average. Advocates and attorneys say eviction rates are coming back up after a lull during the pandemic, saying it’s been a decades-long problem exacerbated by a cost-of-living crisis.

Daniel Grubbs-Donovan, a research specialist at the Eviction Lab, says the increase is partly due to federal and local eviction moratoriums being lifted. Massachusetts’ statewide moratorium ended in October 2020.

“The federal interventions were very effective at keeping people in their homes during the pandemic and preventing evictions,” Grubbs-Donovan said. “So, in most states, in March 2020, you see eviction filings drop to zero. … Now in a lot of states, we’re seeing a return to what we call a pre-pandemic normal.”

Boston has seen the 11th-highest rise out of the 34 cities the lab tracks, according to Grubbs-Donovan.

David Owens, an attorney who represents both landlords and tenants with the firm Hemingway & Owens, LLC, says that he’s not surprised to hear evictions have risen so dramatically, particularly because they were so low at the height of the pandemic.

“[What] we’re seeing right now isn’t an overall trend increase so much as a rebound to where it was before,” Owens said.

Owens cited a number of reasons for the recent increase besides moratoriums being lifted, including a lack of relief funds, more restrictive tenant programs, and a backup in the court system, which he says had halted cases that are now being pursued again. He says many of the cases now were likely delayed in the last couple of years, with waits in the courts dragging cases out from two or three months to much longer.

Gabrielle René, a community organizer with the local housing advocacy group at City Life/Vida Urbana, says that while evictions have risen lately, they’ve been an issue for working-class Bostonians for decades due to the city’s increasing cost of living.

“This situation has been going on for many years… I would say at least [since] 1994, when the opportunity for rent control in Massachusetts was lifted,” she said, referring to the 1994 ballot question that banned rent control initiatives across the commonwealth. “Because of that, families been having to deal with speculative investors coming into the communities, buying up properties and pushing them out to displacement.”

René pointed out that Black and brown communities have been the most heavily impacted by evictions, with neighborhoods such as Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury and East Boston bearing the brunt of them.

In particular, she’s seen some of society’s most marginalized — such as the elderly, people on fixed incomes and immigrants without legal authorization — dealing with evictions from the increased cost of living. Any analysis of eviction data doesn’t include informal evictions, which René says are much more common among undocumented tenants.

“When you look at the census or reports, you’re not going to see East Boston as being very impacted,” she said. “You can only imagine people already dealing with legal issues or immigration issues and then they get an eviction and they’re afraid. The fear of creating additional problems for the family typically results in them picking up and leaving,”

René says she sees hope in Mayor Michelle Wu’s recent rent control proposal, which was approved by City Council earlier this month. Rent increases would be capped at 10%, at most, each year. The proposal still needs approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Maura Healey.

“Rent control, social housing, [we need] anything that could help families stay in their homes and stay in their communities,’ she said. “Housing is a human right and we ought to make a big push for that so that we can stop this madness of mass eviction and mass displacement of communities.”

Diego Lopez is the senior radio producer for GBH’s All Things Considered.

Boston evictions, eviction moratoriums, evictions