As Massachusetts experiments with expanded monetary and legal assistance to prevent evictions during the pandemic, the Biden administration is making eviction policy a central part of his early executive actions to address what he described as an "almost unprecedented housing affordability crisis."
President Biden is also slated to call on Congress to provide rental assistance and extend the moratorium further. The moratorium was earlier scheduled to expire at the end of January.
In addition, Biden will ask the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to consider extending foreclosure moratoriums for federally guaranteed mortgages until at least March 31.
On Tuesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency extended its foreclosure and eviction moratoriums until Feb. 28, according to Biden's team, and he will call on the agency to consider extending the foreclosure moratorium further and continue forbearance applications for all loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Helen Matthews of the housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana says the federal moratorium is too weak — it's not automatic, meaning tenants have to assert their right not to be evicted, and Matthews said that's causing many renters to "fall through the cracks."
"So many people are ... being forced to couch surf or double up with friends and family, or even move into crowded homeless shelters in what is arguably the worst surge of this pandemic," Matthews said.
City Life and other groups are calling for the administration to make the moratorium automatic and have it apply to all types of non-emergency evictions. And advocates say it should stop all phases of the eviction process, from the initial notice to quit to the execution of an eviction.
"Those cases should all be banned right now because it's a matter of public health," Matthews said.
Eric Shupin, director of public policy at the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, says the extension of the moratorium represents a sigh of relief for people worried about losing their home. But he said communities need to see more government dollars aimed at offsetting the COVID housing crisis.
“We need the state and federal governments to provide additional resources for rent relief so that those who have fallen behind on rent don’t risk losing their homes when the moratorium ends,” Shupin told WBUR in a statement.
In October, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker let a state-imposed moratorium on evictions expire, and the Legislature opted not to step in to keep it in place. Instead, the governor laid out a $171 million plan to keep tenants in their homes and support landlords as they struggle with impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a related economic relief measure, Biden is asking the Department of Education to consider immediately extending the pause on interest and principal payments for direct federal loans until at least Sept. 30.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.
This article was originally published on January 20, 2021.