Editorial: Help's on the way for vulnerable renters, landlords

The specter of ongoing disruptions caused by yet another wave in Covid cases in Massachusetts threatens to ruin the upbeat mood lifted by vaccinations and spring weather this week. But there is some good news for Boston residents who have been impacted by Covid-19 and need help paying their rent. It’s also welcome news for many property owners who need to be paid.

On Tuesday, Mayor Janey announced that the city will put $50 million into a relief fund that will help eligible renters tap into as much as $15,000 in assistance. The money, most of it newly arrived from the Biden administration, is intended to amplify the success of last year’s efforts by the Walsh administration to keep tenants— and landlords— afloat during Covid’s peak.

The Boston Rental Relief Fund gave out more than $7.8 million to more than 1,860 households in 2020. But, as Mayor Janey said this week, the need has not gone away.

“This new infusion of funding will go above and beyond what the City has made available in the past,” she said, noting that the funds will help prevent evictions “leading up to the federal moratorium that expires on June 30.”

According to a Janey spokesperson, the new funding will “expand the scope of the current program beyond solely paying for rent, allowing the City to assist eligible renters with utility bills, and moving costs, including the first and last month’s rent and security deposit.”

There are some important guidelines on eligibility to keep in mind. Tenants must earn less than 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) or $96,250 for a family of four and be financially impacted by Covid-19. They will be required to show that they do not “receive a rental subsidy or have funds to meet their needs.” Finally, the program does not apply to full-time undergraduate or graduate students.

On the upside, people who received rental help last year can apply again— and could receive even more help than in 2020 with the new infusion of dollars from the feds. And, this round of funding can also be used to cover past, current, and “prospective rent” along with utilities, including internet service, which remains an essential need for learning and work.

The rental assistance funds will come through the city of Boston, but will be administered with the help of partner agencies like Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), Metro Housing Boston and Dorchester’s Project HOPE, which works with families teetering on the edge of homelessness.

The new round of funding is coupled with a timely announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which on Sunday ordered an extension to the federal moratorium on evictions. The new deadline is June 30. That’s an important reprieve, particularly here in Massachusetts, where our own state moratorium was lifted last October.

People in our communities— who have been ravaged by Covid infections and deaths and job losses— should not have to worry about losing their shelter, too.

To apply, go to boston.gov/departments/neighborhood-development/office-housing-stability/rental-relief-fund.

– Bill Forry

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