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Boston Emergency Rent Moratorium Push Scuttled, Sent To Committee

An emergency effort by Boston city councilors to suspend council rules and vote on a resolution in favor of a rent and mortgage moratorium during the coronavirus pandemic has been blocked by Councilor Frank Baker of Dorchester.

“Being a landlord myself, and having reached out to our tenants just to make sure that we're working with them, I would like to... make sure this goes into committee," said Baker, forcing the measure to be assigned to a committee.

"I believe it's too complex. I don't think this is within our power to call a moratorium on rent.”

The resolution calls for an immediate moratorium on evictions, rents, mortgages and foreclosures in Boston to be put into place until the end of the pandemic. Lead sponsor Ricardo Arroyo of Hyde Park said an array of similar initiatives are taking effect around the country, including in Lawrence, where councilors last week unanimously passed a 60-day rent moratorium.

Arroyo told WBUR that regardless of whether Boston does a moratorium or not, many renters are going to be unable to make rent, and therefore many landlords will be unable to make mortgage payments.

“So you either... try to create a government mechanism for solving that problem before folks are devastated," Arroyo said, "or you could wait... [until] folks can't pay their rent and folks can't pay their mortgages — and try to be reactive to a problem that everybody could have seen coming.”

The call for a citywide rent and mortgage moratorium is supported by the majority of the council.

"Please add my name, Madam President," said At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty, co-sponsoring the resolution. Flaherty said he wants any moratorium to happen in consultation with leaders in the housing and banking sectors.

While many city residents will be "in dire straits," others will continue to get a paycheck, Flaherty said. "And we're going to need them to step up and help get our economy back on track."

Some advocates for landlords say instead of a blanket policy, a rent moratorium should only apply to people who can prove that they need help. Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, told WBUR any rent relief should be granted on a case-by-case basis, between tenants and landlords.

"A vast majority of our landlords that we've talked to... want to figure out what's going on and try to help [tenants] with their lives, because everybody's in the same boat," he said.

And Vasil warned that a blanket moratorium could have unintended consequences.

"If you totally cut off cash flow to some of these buildings, some... are going to fall into the foreclosure world, which is even worse, because if they're foreclosed upon, they'll be taken over by out-of-state banks and we'll be back where we were in 2008."

Arroyo said the rent moratorium policy goes deeper than just helping renters in the short term.

"People get to stay in their homes, business owners get to keep their businesses, and property owners get to keep their properties," he said. "And when we're looking at the back end of this, we're trying to spur an economic recovery."

Arroyo's resolution now goes to the Housing and Community Development Committee, where it could get a public hearing before it goes to a vote. But one council aide told WBUR the hearing requirement can be averted and the resolution could come up for a vote at the next council meeting. This time, the aide said, Baker would be unable to block a vote using the same mechanism.

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

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