Homes for All - Massachusetts

Pass the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill now

July 21, 2021

The Honorable Governor Charles Baker
Senate President Karen Spilka
Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano
Members of the Massachusetts Legislature

If Massachusetts really cares about equity and racial justice, we must act now to prevent COVID-19 evictions and foreclosures

Governor Baker, President Spilka, Speaker Mariano, and members of the Legislature:

As Massachusetts struggles to defeat COVID-19 and recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, it is urgent that you act now to protect vulnerable residents by passing "An act to prevent COVID-19 evictions and foreclosures and promote an equitable housing recovery" (H.1434/S.891).

Vulnerable residents cannot wait: over 18,000 eviction cases have been filed since October, and things will get even worse after federal COVID-19 eviction and foreclosure protections expire on July 31.

We have welcomed statements of solidarity from elected officials over the past year, affirming their commitment to combating the economic disparities and systemic racism exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented civil rights mobilizations. But those words will ring hollow if our Commonwealth does not take action to protect against the displacement of groups disproportionately harmed both by the pandemic and by evictions and foreclosures: people of color, lower-income and working class households, and frontline and low-wage workers.

The COVID-19 Housing Equity bill (H.1434/S.891), with nearly 70 cosponsors, provides these needed protections but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Meanwhile, countless people affected by the pandemic are getting eviction notices or threats of foreclosure instead of the help they need. The application and delivery system for rent and mortgage assistance is incredibly slow, extremely difficult to navigate, prone to wrongful denials, and particularly inaccessible for people who do not speak English, applicants with disabilities, and those who lack access to computers. Massachusetts has also failed to implement policies recommended by the federal government that would make for quicker, easier, and more equitable distribution of assistance. The state's own data seems to indicate that a majority of applications for rental assistance are not being approved.

Another key problem is that Massachusetts – unlike some other other jurisdictions – allows landlords to serve eviction notices and file court cases without first cooperating with rental assistance programs. Tenants often face eviction even as they wait for the state to respond to their applications for help, or in some cases when landlords refuse to accept payment of arrearages offered by state programs. Thrown into a confusing and terrifying eviction process, many tenants are forced out of their homes. Even those who manage to avert displacement in eviction court end up with permanent, public marks on their records that will make it harder to locate new housing in the future and may damage their credit.

Homeowners are struggling as well, with the number of loans in serious default close to levels seen at the time of the foreclosure crisis a decade ago. Over 28,000 homeowners in Massachusetts are more than three months behind on their mortgage. With lenders too often demanding immediate payment of arrearages accrued due to the pandemic, they will be at grave risk of foreclosure when existing protections disappear at the end of the month.

The impacts of these kinds of displacement reverberate for decades; foreclosures and evictions alike cause long-lasting harm to physical and mental health and financial wellbeing. The COVID-19 Housing Equity bill prevents these outcomes by:

  1. ensuring landlords cooperate with rental assistance programs before resorting to eviction;
  2. requiring the state to simplify the application process for rent and mortgage assistance;
  3. protecting the most vulnerable tenants from forced removal for COVID-19 debts;
  4. requiring lenders to offer sustainable forbearance plans to homeowners and to protect homeowners whose forbearance plans are ending;
  5. and temporarily pausing foreclosures and no-fault evictions during the COVID-19 recovery period.

Our state is now on the path to rising numbers of COVID-19 evictions and foreclosures, which will reinforce economic inequality, systemic racism, and pandemic disparities. There is still time to instead choose a path toward a stronger, more equitable recovery by passing the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill, but we must move with urgency. Please act before it's too late.

Sincerely,

[list in formation]

Homes for All Massachusetts
Massachusetts AFL-CIO
Catholic Charities (Archdiocese of Boston)
Catholic Charities Agency (Diocese of Springfield)
Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness
ACLU of Massachusetts
SEIU MA State Council
United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
350 Mass
Action for Boston Community Development, Inc.
Agencia ALPHA
Alex Jarrett, City Councilor, Northampton, MA
Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation
Allston Brighton Health Collaborative
Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE)
Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust
Amherst Survival Center
Arise For Social Justice
Asian American Resource Workshop
Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence (ATASK)
Baystate Health
Behavioral Health Network
Ben Ewen-Campen, Somerville City Councilor Ward 3
Berkshire Community Action Council
Berkshire Community College
Berkshire Housing Development/Services
Berkshire Immigrant Center
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission
Berkshire United Way
Boston Asian: Youth Essential Service
Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network
Boston Jobs Coalition, Inc.
Boston Tenant Coalition, Inc
Brazilian Women's Group
Cape & Islands Veterans Outreach Center
Center for Human Development
Center for Public Representation
Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance
CHD
Chinatown Community Land Trust
City Life/Vida Urbana
City Mission Boston
Coalition for Social Justice
Collaborative Resolutions Group
Commonwealth Care Alliance
Community Action Agency of Somerville
Community Action Pioneer Valley
Community Economic Development Center - New Bedford
Cooley Dickinson Health Care
Councilor Kristen Strezo (Somerville)
Craig’s Doors - A Home Association, Inc.
De Novo Center for Justice and Healing
DIAL/SELF Youth & Community Services
Disability Policy Consortium
Dorchester Not for Sale
DOVE (DOmetsic Violence Ended), Inc.
Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath)
Ecumenical Food Pantry of Norwood
Eliot CHS Homeless Services
Engine 6, Housing Advocates in Newton
Essex County Community Organization
Fenway Health
Franklin Hampshire Employment and Training Consortium
Friends of Hampshire County Homeless
Gandara Center
Greater Boston Labor Council
Greenfield Community College
GreenRoots
Groundwork Lawrence
Grow Food Northampton
Haitian Americans United Inc
Hampden County Career Center, Inc., dba: MasshireHolyoke
Health Leads
HealthLink
Hilltown CDC
Holyoke Community College
Homes for Families
Housing = Health
Housing Clinic, Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School

Housing Families Inc.
IBA - Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción
Immigrant Service Providers Group/Health
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Jonathan Guzman, Lawrence School Committee - District F
Justice Resource Institute, Inc.
Lawrence CommunityWorks
Louison House, Inc.
Lynn United for Change
Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants
Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance
Massachusetts Climate Action Network
Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Massachusetts Communities Action Network
Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, Inc.
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Massachusetts Public Health Association
Massachusetts Teachers Association
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition
Massachusetts Workforce Association
MassHire Berkshire Career Center
MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center
MassHire Springfield Career Center
Maverick Landing Community Services (MLCS)
Mayor David J. Narkewicz (City of Northampton)
Mayor Joseph Curtatone (City of Somerville)
Mayor Nicole LaChapelle (Easthampton, MA)
Mayor Roxann Wedegartner (City of Greenfield)
Mayor Tom Bernard (City of North Adams)
Mercy Medical Center
MissionSAFE: A New Beginning, Inc.
Mt. Sinai Baptist Church
National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW Local 2320
New England Center and Home for Veterans
New England Farm Workers Council
New England United 4 Justice
New Lynn Coalition
North Shore Labor Council
Northampton Survival Center
Northeast Justice Center
Northern Berkshire United Way
One Family
PAACA - Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction, Inc
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer
Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts
Progressive Massachusetts
Prophetic Resistance Boston
Public Health Institute of Western MA
Reclaim Roxbury
Resist the Pipeline
Rian Immigrant Center
Rosie's Place
SEIU Local 509
ServiceNet Inc.
Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston
Sociedad Latina
Solidarity Lowell
Solstice Initiative
Southeastern Massachusetts SER-Jobs for Progress, Inc
Springfield No One Leaves
Springfield Partners for Community Action. Inc. (MASSCAP)
Springfield Technical Community College
Square One
St Mark Community Education Program
Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice
Tapestry Health Systems
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
The Greater Boston Food Bank
The Junior League of Boston, Inc.
The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region
The Right to Immigration Institute
Town Manager Paul Bockelman
Trinity Health New England
Unitarian Universalist Mass Action
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445
United Way of the Franklin & Hampshire Region
Valley Community Development
Valley Opportunity Council
Western Mass Area Labor Federation
Women's Health Institute
YWCA Cambridge