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Boston Council Approves (Largely Symbolic) Call For Rent And Mortgage Moratorium

Triple and double decker apartment houses along Lamson Street in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Triple and double decker apartment houses along Lamson Street in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

All but one of Boston's city councilors voted Wednesday to call for a moratorium on rents and mortgages — a symbolic move designed to pressure lawmakers at the state and federal level to take further action to protect renters and landlords.

It was a second attempt to pass the resolution, which was scuttled last week when city Councilor Frank Baker blocked the emergency measure proposed by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo.

Councilor Lydia Edwards moved the resolution out of committee to allow for a vote during Wednesday's videoconferenced council meeting. It passed by a 12-1 vote, with Baker again rejecting the resolution.

"This resolution is a call for many of the institutional stakeholders to rise to the occasion and provide relief for renters and for landlords," Edwards said.

"This is not a call for people to stop paying rent, and it is not a call for people to stop paying mortgages," she continued.

But Baker warned that people will misinterpret the symbolic move as an actual rent moratorium.

"Telling everyone they shouldn't have to pay rent or their mortgage indefinitely, regardless of whether they have been financially impacted or not by the COVID virus, would be reckless," Baker said.

Instead, Baker argued, the city's resolution should have included "prescriptive" language to suggest policy to lawmakers.

Arroyo said he didn't see how people could decide to stop paying rent because of a statement from the Council.

"That's not a real thing for me," Arroyo said. "The goal here is to advocate for those in our constituencies, both tenants and property owners, who are in fear right now because they can't make their payments."

Councilor Michael Flaherty tried unsuccessfully to amend the resolution to include a "means test," a move rejected by councilors who said policy details should be worked out by legislators.

Councilor Kenzie Bok noted that the Council does not have the power to enact a rent freeze. But she said councilors should use their "bully pulpit" to advocate for the changes they want.

In addition to a rent moratorium, the resolution calls for a halt to evictions, foreclosures and mortgage payments until the pandemic is over.

Housing advocates are closely watching a bill in the State House that would protect Massachusetts residents from evictions and foreclosures. The bill does not seek to establish a rent moratorium.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he supports the eviction moratorium under discussion in the State House.

“I am confident this bill will be passed swiftly to meet the urgency of this issue,” Walsh said in a statement. “At a time when so many are unable to work through no fault of their own, people should not have to worry about losing their homes.”

In addition to advocating for the statewide evictions moratorium, the city has taken some steps to temper the impact of the pandemic on renters. The city joined with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations to call for a moratorium on evictions, and Boston Housing Authority stopped pursuing what it considers “non-essential” evictions.

Despite opposing the council's actions, Baker said in a statement that he's "happy to see" the state legislation advancing.

"These prescriptive measures provide critical relief for renters and homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, while protecting them from long-term financial ruin," he said.

The resolution was proposed last week by Arroyo, who attempted to suspend council rules to get a vote the day it was introduced. That move was blocked by Baker, who said during Wednesday's meeting that it led people to bully him.

After last week's meeting, Arroyo posted a tweet calling for people to contact Baker and urge him to support the resolution.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2020.

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Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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