Mayor, housing activists seek halt to evictions during crisis

Housing advocates are pushing for a total moratorium on evictions as the coronavirus pandemic descends on the region— a call that is finding support among state lawmakers, Mayor Martin Walsh, and some of the largest property management companies in the region.

On Saturday, Walsh, joined by business leaders from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and the Massachusetts Apartment Association, announced a “partnership” to “impose a moratorium on evictions while Massachusetts is under a state of emergency.”

The agreement would “encourage” property owners to “implement a moratorium on evictions that could be in effect for 90 days, with reviews every 30 days.”

Trinity Financial, Winn Residential, The Community Builders, and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations were named as businesses that would “support the moratorium.”

Said the mayor: "Our primary focus in Boston is protecting our residents and ensuring they are safe and healthy as we work to stop the spread of coronavirus. Housing stability is crucial at this time, and I thank the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and the property owners throughout our city for working to minimize the disruptions to our residents during this challenging time.”

Greg Vasil, CEO and president of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said the group is urging its members to place a moratorium on evictions in Boston.

“During this time,” he said, “we know how vital it is to do our part to minimize the anxiety and health risk to our tenants. This moratorium could last up to 90 days, with decisions being reviewed every 30 days. The halting of evictions will apply to those who are directly impacted by economic loss due to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Last week, the tenant advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana and legal partners Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and Greater Boston Legal Services organized a rally in front of Boston Housing Court to make the case for a complete halt to any evictions while the state of emergency in Massachusetts remains in effect.

"It's very unhealthy for us to go to the courthouse," said Jacqueline Tucker, a Section 8 tenant fighting a rent hike who last week had an appointment at housing court. "If they can shut colleges and schools down, why are they subjecting us to come here and get sick?"

Asserting that people in Housing Court are typically packed shoulder-to-shoulder for hours, putting them at risk for exposure, Andres Del Castillo, a City Life/Vida Urbana organizer, said, "No one should have to choose between defending their home and being healthy.”

On March 14, Chief Justice Timothy Sullivan ordered the postponement of most eviction cases in Massachusetts until April 21. Advocates celebrated the decision as a victory, but want legislation passed to codify a full moratorium.

Last week, State Reps. Mike Connolly and Kevin Honan, who is chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing, filed legislation that would do just that. House bill 4935 would enact a statewide halt on evictions, foreclosures, and related legal proceedings in the Commonwealth for the duration of the COVID-19 State of Emergency.

"This postponement creates space for the more comprehensive legislative solution that's pending in the state house, H.4935, which should pass immediately," said Joey Michalakes, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services.

Steve Meacham, coordinator at City Life/Vida Urbana, said many low-income workers who aren’t able to work remotely are particularly concerned about potential evictions.

"The loss of income for parents of kids in BPS who can't work remotely, retail workers, service industry workers, and many others will absolutely lead to the inability to pay rent and mortgages, which will lead to evictions," he said.

"The postponement is a huge step in the right direction, but it still allows executed evictions to go forward, encourages settlements out of court when residents have little access to legal aid, and ends on April 21 when the emergency could carry on far longer.”