Massachusetts Advocacy Alert
July 20, 2020
Dear Massachusetts Vincentians and Social Justice Seekers,
At the end of May, we circulated an Advocacy Alert asking you to encourage State legislators to develop a legislative solution to the threat of widespread, massive housing evictions we and others foresaw coming in August when the State-wide COVID-19 moratorium ends. Now, specific legislation has been introduced on the Senate (SD2992) and House (H5166) sides to do just that.
So, we write again to implore you to contact your legislators to urge support for these bills. Time is exceedingly short! The legislature is set to adjourn July 31st, and the current eviction moratorium ends August 18th.
In urging passage, you will join the four Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts who strongly endorse this legislation (click here to read their letter) and more than 200+ community impact and social services agencies, faith based and otherwise. Click here for a list of those organizations and for more information about the proposed legislation.
As Vincentians, you likely are noticing in your own Conferences, as we are in ours, the surging requests for large amounts of rental assistance from families that previously were able to get by, even if only narrowly. Now the problem is not just short-term – say, a temporary gap in a month’s rent due to an unexpected expense – it is long-term.
Federal COVID-19 (CARES Act) stimulus checks have been spent meeting urgent needs when regular income was lost. The $600 a week special Federal unemployment insurance benefit boost is ending the last week of July. Jobs remain unavailable as the extremely high Massachusetts unemployment rate of 17.4% attests. Those jobs which have come back are often at reduced hours or with reduced pay (e.g., tips at half-empty restaurants). Gig workers (e.g., Lyft and Uber drivers) find greatly reduced demand.
Reliable estimates are that 20,000 to 30,000 eviction notices are waiting to be filed. Without a legislative framework for getting us through this next phase of our COVID-19 recovery, chaos will result. Homelessness could skyrocket, bringing even more severe problems.
SD 2992 and H5166 take these key steps to minimize further disruption in the rental housing market. They also contain provisions to help homeowners with foreclosure threats and to encourage mortgage forbearance (i.e. deferment of payments to end of mortgage term).
- Rental Eviction Protection – extends eviction protections for COVID-impacted tenants by ensuring tenants who missed rent due to a COVID-related reason during the emergency and for a one-year period thereafter cannot be evicted on that basis.
- Housing Stability – maintains rents at the levels they were at on March 10, 2020 and establishes “just cause” eviction protections. Owner-occupant landlords in residential properties of 4 units or less would be exempt from these additional housing stability protections.
- Housing Stability and Recovery Fund – creates a COVID-19 Housing Stability and Recovery Fund to help fill gaps in existing programs and to prioritize limited resources in ways that best serve the most vulnerable homeowners and landlords. The Fund could accept monies from state or federal sources, or other sources. It is designed to prioritize the property owners who are most vulnerable, including owner-occupant landlords, elderly homeowners, nonprofits, and Massachusetts-based landlords who own 15 or fewer units of rental housing.
Importantly, rents are not canceled, but a structure is imposed to avoid evictions for COVID-19 reasons until the economy stabilizes and a semblance of normalcy returns.
We urge you to immediately contact your legislators, using the automated message to the side as a suggested template. Your message will even be more impactful if you edit and customize it with your own perspective. Paragraph #3 is the ideal place to insert your own story.
Thank you for continuing to support those in need during these most challenging times.
President, SVdP Diocesan Council of Fall River
President, SVdP Diocesan Council of Worcester
President, SVdP Diocesan Council of Boston
President, SVdP District Council of Attleboro
Chair, SVdP District Council of Attleboro Voice of the Poor Committee