Council backs call for rent/mortgage protections in 12-1 vote

The Boston City Council today passed a non-binding resolution calling for a moratorium on rents, mortgage payments, evictions and foreclosures by a 12-1 vote. District 3 Councillor Frank Baker, who blocked the vote last week and sent the resolution into a committee hearing, cast the lone vote in opposition.

The debate— held on the online platform Zoom— included a sharp back-and-forth between the resolution’s sponsor— District 5 Councillor Ricardo Arroyo— and Baker, who clashed over the the council’s lack of authority to actually enact such a measure, and their role to advocate for state government to take action.

“The [Boston] Herald’s line tomorrow is going to be ‘a rent moratorium- city council calls for a rent moratorium.’ We do not have the power or the authority,” said Baker. “My concern is with the consumer that does not understand that. This is a dangerous message, especially when we know we can’t not enact it.”

“We need to call for prescriptive actions by the proper authorities to protect all of our constituents that have been impacted by the coronavirus,” said Baker.

The Dorchester councillor noted that the state Legislature is advancing legislation— S. 2621— that would protect Massachusetts homeowners and tenants who have suffered financial hardships directly related to the COVID-19 crisis from penalties and evictions— at least for the duration of the emergency.

Baker added: “And the way that I was treated for [opposing] this here… I’m going to stop talking here.”

Arroyo said that just because the council doesn’t have the authority to enact a moratorium, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t support it.

“I don’t like the idea that we can’t advocate for things. It's not within our powers to instate a moratorium, but it’s well within our powers to advocate for one,” he said.

Arroyo added that the resolution isn’t “a call for people not to pay their mortgages.”

“It’s disingenuous,” said Baker, prompting Council President Janey to halt the councillors’ exchange and put the resolution up for a roll call vote.

Before passage of the resolution, the council adopted one of three “friendly” amendments offered by at-large Councillor Michael Flaherty. The council adopted Flaherty’s idea to tweak a small phrase in the original resolution concerning the duration of the moratorium. Flaherty’s amendment would allow for such a pause to be renewed on a “quarterly basis until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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