Housing groups, tenant advocates and landlords are working to hash out a deal with the Baker administration to deploy more federal money for people struggling to pay rent amid the coronavirus recession.
At the same time, the state’s housing courts are planning furiously to add resources to handle an expected flood of eviction filings that could come soon after the commonwealth’s eviction moratorium ends on Oct. 17.
“We want to ensure people can remain in their home, so their kids aren’t disrupted, so their families aren’t disrupted,” says Paula Carey, chief justice of the Trial Court. “Some people are going to get this 'Notice to Quit,' and they’re going to think they have to leave. That’s not what we want.”
"Some people are going to get this 'Notice to Quit,' and they’re going to think they have to leave. That’s not what we want."Paula Carey, chief justice of the Mass. Trial Court
While the courts vie for funds to pay lawyers and bring in retired judges, they also are closely watching how much housing aid Gov. Charlie Baker will announce in the coming days.
The state has at least $800 million left of the $2.7 billion in CARES Act money it received from the federal government, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, an independent research group. Those funds must be used by year end, and housing advocates are seeking about $200 million for a program that pays landlords who are owed rent, according to several people briefed on the discussions.
The many stakeholders in housing have been holding a slew of meetings in recent weeks; as of Thursday, there was still much to iron out.
“Our goal is really just to bring together people around the very real issue we're facing of a potential tsunami of evictions once moratorium protections are lifted here in Massachusetts,” says Eric Shupin, public policy director for the nonprofit Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, or CHAPA — an umbrella group for affordable housing initiatives across the state.
CHAPA is proposing that the state devote $175 million for help paying rent; $25 million for outreach efforts; and $15 million for legal aid for tenants. They and others are looking to increase the total benefit per household from $4,000 to $10,000.
This assistance is aimed not only at preventing a housing crisis and a wave of homelessness, but to keep landlords solvent, and, in turn, the banks that hold their mortgages. A key sticking point in the state negotiations is whether landlords will be able to claim all the back rent they are owed, or if they’ll have to take a discounted amount.
Doug Quattrochi of the group MassLandlords says he can’t support a proposal that requires landlords to give up rent money they are counting on.
“What everybody seems to be jockeying around is, ‘Well, how much can we cram landlords down? You know, we'll take 70 cents on the dollar, or we’ll take 50 cents on the dollar,’ ” he says. “I was trying to explain to them it's not a question of profitability. There's just a ton of mom and pops that can't pay their base expenses.”
Another critical question in the talks is how large the eviction problem will actually be. According to a report by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston, 45,000 renter households and 35,000 owner households in the state will have trouble covering their housing costs this month. In October alone, Massachusetts residents are expected to fall short on their rental payments by $40 million. And 60,000 renter households in the state fear “imminent eviction.”
And there remains significant confusion around how the federal eviction ban will work when the state moratorium, in place since April, expires a week from Saturday. Carey, the chief justice, says the courts will be providing more information on that soon.
A key difference will be that tenants need to notify landlords that they qualify for the federal protection. They have to be unable to pay rent due to the economic shutdown caused by COVID-19. Carey says the state plans to launch an education effort, as well as remote town hall meetings, to guide people through the rules.
She says everyone currently unable to pay their rent should not fear immediate eviction. While some 11,000 eviction cases already in the pipeline before the pandemic will be able to move forward after Oct. 17, new cases will likely take months to be heard. Before filing a case, landlords must provide tenants a 30-day "Notice to Quit," she explains. So new cases will probably surge in November.
“It’s not business as usual. We’ll probably be hearing cases every day instead of once a week,” Carey says.
But judges and housing advocates hope many of these disputes can be resolved — as the state makes more federal funds available to cover rents.
This segment aired on October 8, 2020.