Baker defers vote on Arroyo’s bid for stay on rents, mortgages

In the City Council’s virtual meeting last Wednesday, District 5 Councillor Ricardo Arroyo offered a resolution calling for a citywide moratorium on rent, mortgages, evictions, and foreclosures. District 3 Councillor Frank Baker blocked the resolution — which was otherwise supported by 12 members of the 13-member body— forcing Council President Kim Janey to refer it to a committee hearing.

“This is quite a complex issue here,” said Baker. “I would like to invoke Rule 33 to make sure that this goes into committee and we don’t take a vote on this today. I believe it’s too complex, and I don’t think this is within our power to call for a moratorium.”

After the meeting, Arroyo took to Twitter, asking residents to email Baker and urge him to support the resolution.

Arroyo wrote: “Today, all councilors, except for Frank Baker, supported my resolution calling for a moratorium on rent, mortgage, evictions, and foreclosures. His objection denied us a vote on this. Email Frank Baker at frank.baker@boston.gov and urge him to support it.”

Arroyo had also said on Twitter before the council meeting that Mayor Walsh supported his resolution, writing: “Just got off a call … and he pledged to support my resolution.”

Janey referred the resolution to a hearing that will be held by the Committee on Housing and Community Development, explaining, “Because there has been an objection, we have to refer it to a hearing.”

In a phone call with the Reporter, Baker explained his decision to seek a hearing before taking a vote.

“I want to stress that I don’t disagree with the intentions of this resolution. I would just rather have a hearing when it comes to something as complex as this. To ask for something like that — calling a moratorium — is not within our purview or power.”

He added: “This move to me looked like pure political posturing on his [Arroyo’s] part, trying to take advantage when we’re in a pandemic situation. He’s trying to score points here and I didn’t care for it. There’s already an order for no evictions for two months in place coming down on the state. Nobody’s going to get kicked out of their homes.”

Baker told the Reporter that he had received “vulgar” calls on his personal devices in the hours since the council meeting. “My home phone, my cell, and even my wife’s cell have been published,” he said. “I wouldn’t even say to anybody some of the things we’ve been hearing. The messages being left on my wife’s phone are vulgar.”

While Baker said he supports a hearing on the issues outlined in the resolution, he added that he thinks that leadership should come from federal and state levels.

This week, Councillor Baker said he supported a Senate bill pushed by Sen. Nick Collins that was poised for a vote this week.

“Im happy to see our partners in the state Legislature moving this legislation to provide protection from evictions and foreclosures for the residents of Boston and across the Commonwealth,” Baker said. “These prescriptive measures provide critical relief for renters and homeowners impacted by the COVID19 pandemic, while protecting them from long term financial ruin.”

Some advocates for landlords say instead of a blanket policy, a rent moratorium should only apply to people who can prove that they need help. Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, told WBUR any rent relief should be granted on a case-by-case basis, between tenants and landlords.

“A vast majority of our landlords that we’ve talked to... want to figure out what’s going on and try to help [tenants] with their lives, because everybody’s in the same boat,” he said.

Vasil also warned that a blanket moratorium could have unintended consequences. “If you totally cut off cash flow to some of these buildings, some... are going to fall into the foreclosure world, which is even worse, because if they’re foreclosed upon, they’ll be taken over by out-of-state banks and we’ll be back where we were in 2008.”

While the other councillors supported the resolution, a couple called the situation “complex,” and urged careful consideration of ripple effects. District 1’s Lydia Edwards said she approved the resolution, but wanted to make sure the council kept in mind the “burden” it would place on some.

“I think we as the council certainly need to say in one voice that we see folks struggling and we understand that,” she said. “We also need to acknowledge that we are placing a burden on corporations and we need to make sure that we are addressing that.”

At-large Councillor Michael Flaherty also was supportive of Arroyo. “I know that we have folks in the city who are in dire circumstances,” he said, “we need to recognize the severity of this situation.”

At-large Councillor Michelle Wu said, “It’s important for us to be pushing for this at the city level. We know that the devastation will continue even after the public health crisis has quieted down. Now is the time to step up and start putting in place the steps to have an equitable recovery from this.”

District 4’s Andrea Campbell supported Arroyo’s call, saying: “No one should lose their home because of a health crisis. It’s critical and it’s essential from an economic and public health perspective – and it’s the just and moral thing to do. I want to thank the mayor for his leadership on this and for encouraging the real estate community to have moratorium on evictions.”

District 6 Councillor Matt O’Malley said that the council must take “extraordinary action during these extraordinary times,” but he did note that the situation is complex. “There is a complexity to this, but it’s something we need to do, obviously.”