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 shows that approximately 90% of applications for rental assistance were denied between January and May 2021.

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]

SEIU State Council
Rosie's Place
Lawrence CommunityWorks
Arise For Social Justice
Boston Tenant Coalition, Inc
Unitarian Universalist Mass Action
Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness
Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance
United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
Coalition for Social Justice
Catholic Charities (Archdiocese of Boston)
Agencia ALPHA
Rian Immigrant Center
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445
Asian American Resource Workshop
Resist the Pipeline
One Family
City Mission Boston
Massachusetts Public Health Association
Western Mass Area Labor Federation
Lynn United for Change
SEIU Local 509
Massachusetts Communities Action Network
Mayor Tom Bernard, City of North Adams
Mayor Nicole LaChapelle (Easthampton, MA)
Dorchester Not for Sale
State Rep. Mike Connolly
Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, Inc.
De Novo Center for Justice and Healing

Prophetic Resistance Boston
Boston Asian: Youth Essential Service
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Climate Action Network
Housing Clinic, Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition
MissionSAFE: A New Beginning, Inc.
Berkshire Community Action Coun
New Lynn Coalition
Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation
Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath)
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Community Action Agency of Somerville
Action for Boston Community Development, Inc.
Berkshire Immigrant Center
Brazilian Women's Group
Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE)
Haitian Americans United Inc
Commonwealth Care Alliance
Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston
Essex County Community Organization
Sociedad Latina
St Mark Community Education Program
Justice Resource Institute, Inc.
Disability Policy Consortium
Mt. Sinai Baptist Church
Allston Brighton Health Collaborative
Behavioral Health Network
Housing Families Inc.