BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a new $171 million initiative Monday that he said will help tenants and landlords cope with the fiscal challenges of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
The goal of the initiative is to keep tenants in their homes and ease the ongoing expenses of landlords once the state’s pause on evictions and foreclosures expires on Saturday, Baker said in a press release.
Baker said the plan was developed by a team assembled by his administration, in coordination with the Massachusetts Trial Court, to manage the end of the moratorium.
“The pandemic has created financial challenges for many individuals and families who are struggling with rent payments, and today we are pleased to announce a $171 million initiative to promote household stability, and provide more support for tenants and small landlords,” the Republican said.
The bulk of the spending — about $100 million — will go to expand the capacity of the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program to provide relief to renters and landlords struggling because of the pandemic.
Another $49 million will go to rapid rehousing programs for tenants who are evicted and at risk of homelessness.
Other funds will help provide tenants and landlords with legal services during the eviction process and support mediation programs to help tenants and landlords resolve cases outside of court.
The new investments will increase the maximum benefit available through the RAFT program from $4,000 to $10,000 per household, with a goal of helping more families stabilize their housing for six months, or until the end of June if there are school-age children in the household, Baker said.
Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh last week also announced a “housing stability pledge” that he said aims to prevent evictions during the pandemic once the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ends.
The pledge asks landlords to honor the federal eviction moratorium; create payment plans with struggling tenants; help connect tenants with resources; and work with tenants with housing vouchers, Walsh said.
Landlords have called the pandemic eviction ban unconstitutional, arguing that it restricted their free speech and their ability to acquire compensation for unlawful land taking.
Housing advocates rallied on the Boston Common and Somerville on Sunday to call for passage of a comprehensive eviction prevention measure intended to help stabilize renters, homeowners and small landlords for a year as Massachusetts weathers the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“One in three Massachusetts renters households are at risk of eviction once this moratorium ends. And this is absolutely unacceptable,” organizer Nicole Eigbrett said in Somerville. “People are facing housing insecurities, food insecurities. They’re losing their loved ones. We can’t let people go homeless during this crisis. It’s absolutely morally unacceptable.”
The bill would ensure tenants cannot be evicted because of missed rent if the nonpayment was due to COVID-19, giving them time to get owed rental payments and other assistance in place. It would also prevent “no fault” evictions and rent increases for 12 months following the state of emergency.
The bill would also continue to guard against foreclosure and strengthen forbearance protections, allowing homeowners and landlords with up to 15 units to pause their mortgage and put missed payments on the end of the loan.
When the state moratorium expires Saturday, a moratorium established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will take effect in Massachusetts.
The CDC moratorium will prevent evictions through December for non-payment for qualified tenants who submit a written declaration to their landlord.
Courts will accept filings and process cases, and may enter judgments but will not issue an order allowing a landlord to evict a tenant until after the expiration of the CDC order. Protection is limited to households who meet certain income and vulnerability criteria.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.)