August 27, 2021
Yesterday's Supreme Court decision to overturn the CDC eviction moratorium makes it even more critical for Massachusetts to immediately act to prevent needless evictions and foreclosures by enacting the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill (H.1434 / S.891).
Without quick action to pass this bill, the current steady stream of evictions and foreclosures in our state – which has produced over 19,000 eviction filings since the start of the COVID-19 emergency – will grow into a flood and continue to endanger public health while exacerbating racial inequities and economic injustice.
Justice Breyer’s dissent in the Supreme Court decision notes studies cited by the CDC showing that the ending of state eviction moratoriums led to more than 10,000 deaths and 433,000 new cases of COVID-19. Eviction and foreclosure have devastating impacts on the health and financial well-being of low-income and working class households and disproportionately harm communities of color. A recent Harvard Joint Center on Housing Studies report on COVID-19 demonstrates that landlord responses to COVID-19 are magnifying existing inequities: during the pandemic, households in communities of color have been more likely to face late fees and eviction notices, while those in predominantly white areas have been more likely to receive rent forgiveness and reductions in rent.
If we do not act, people harmed by COVID-19 in the Commonwealth will continue to get eviction and foreclosure notices instead of receiving the help they need even as huge amounts of emergency federal rent assistance funds sit unused. Massachusetts is no exception to the nationwide failure to distribute rental assistance, with the majority of people in our state who need help unable to get it and vulnerable groups having the most difficult time (e.g. nearly a year and a half into the pandemic there is still no accurately translated Spanish application form).
This is why the White House and members of Congress including Ayanna Pressley are calling for states to act immediately to prevent displacement. Massachusetts has the answer to that call ready: the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill has 70 cosponsors in the legislature, is endorsed by over 150 community groups, faith-based groups, labor unions, educational institutions, social service agencies, and local elected officials from across the state.
The legislation is not a blanket moratorium, but a focused measure that prevents needless displacement by temporarily halting no-cause evictions, foreclosures, and evictions related to COVID-19 debt. The bill ensures that tenants, homeowners, and small-scale landlords alike get access to help before and instead of being thrown into the processes of eviction or foreclosure.
The time for Massachusetts to act is now. The Housing Committee recently heard powerful testimony on the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill at a hearing earlier in August. The Committee should report the bill favorably and Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka should move quickly to pass the bill into law. The people of our Commonwealth are counting on our Legislature to act now. Justice delayed is justice denied, and in this case it is also a danger to public health.
Tenants facing eviction and homeowners facing foreclosure are urged to contact a local housing justice organization listed at www.HomesForAllMass.org or their local legal aid agency. Even with the end of the CDC moratorium, no one can be legally evicted without a court process. A "notice to quit" or "notice to vacate" does not mean you must leave your home. Our advice to members of our communities threatened by displacement in the midst of a pandemic: don't move, fight back!