by Jacqueline King
Tenants in Massachusetts will face a tsunami of evictions this fall and winter, if the state does not act to protect them. The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences have caused tens of thousands of families to fall behind in their rents. Yet the leadership of the State Legislature allowed the Massachusetts Evictions and Foreclosures Moratorium, the strongest in the country, to expire on October 17.
Though losing one’s home is always a crisis, the pandemic adds an entirely new health hazard since “sheltering at home” is no longer an option. Those who are evicted are often forced into crowded apartments with relatives or friends, or into crowded shelters, presenting prime conditions for rapid spread of the virus.
Rep. Mike Connolly, who along with many housing advocates and grassroots groups led the fight for the passage of the moratorium last spring, strongly pushed for the Legislature to extend it in October, but the leadership failed to act. Connolly’s efforts would also have protected homeowners and small landlords. The Governor has formulated his own plan to help renters, called the Eviction Diversion Initiative, which is more narrowly based and some elements of which are still not ready.
Connolly noted, in a remote emergency session of the House, “We have allowed the eviction and foreclosure moratorium to expire, we’re facing an ongoing housing emergency, and we are in the middle of an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across the state – and yet many of the components of the Governor’s plan are not yet operational or are already broken.”
In a recent letter to constituents, Connolly explained, “The Baker Administration says their plan will allocate direct financial support for up to 18,000 households. However, a recent analysis by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) says an estimated 60,000 renter households fear imminent eviction. This week, the Boston Globe reported the Chief Justice of the Trial Court thinks there could be as many as 200,000 evictions. And last week the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center cited a National Low-Income Housing Coalition estimate that says up to 300,000 households in our state are at risk of eviction.”
Some municipalities such as Cambridge and Somerville have stepped forward to try to fill the gap. According to Lee Farris, president of the Cambridge Residents Alliance, the city needs even stronger protections: “We are worried that the end of the state eviction moratorium could lead to numerous evictions in Cambridge,” Farris wrote in an open email to the City Council. “And eviction tends to disproportionately impact people of color and low-income people.”
Local organizations such as City Life / La Vida Urbana and others in the Homes for All Coalition will continue to push for legislative action. Some leaders have noted they may need to organize eviction blockings, building takeovers, and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience if the crisis continues to worsen. Our allies in the Poor Peoples Campaign will be leading a “winter offensive” against homelessness that we expect to support.
—Jacqueline King is a Mass. Peace Action board member and editor of its newsletter.