Real estate industry leaders and landlords opposed a bill on Beacon Hill that would revive the state’s eviction moratorium, arguing that the hundreds of millions of dollars left in rental subsidies obviate the need for a temporary ban.
H.1434 / P.891 would restore a temporary ban on evictions and foreclosures for the 12 months following the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency. Governor Charlie Baker lifted the state of emergency on June 15.
Other sections of the bill would also require landlords to seek rental aid and work with administrative authorities before contacting evictions, and would require the administration to streamline and simplify the rental aid application process.
By Thursday, 82 lawmakers had co-funded either or both versions of the House or Senate bill, a sign that the proposal may have a reasonable chance of getting it passed if it hits the House or Senate.
The Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which represents thousands of property owners in the area, made a statement saying the bill is “in fact a government-ordered rent waiver.”
A section of the bill, the industry group said, would create “serious problems” for both landlords and tenants moving into new units by restricting the requirements tenants leave at the end of a lease.
“If the previous tenant can stay despite express rental conditions and the landlord has no remedy, the new tenant waiting to move in becomes homeless through no fault of his own,” writes GBREB in his testimony. “The resulting cascade effect on the rental apartment market would be considerable and would lead to enormous uncertainty for tenants who have no guarantee that their new apartments will be ready for occupancy at the time of the right to move in.”
State aid is slow to come about
Small, non-corporate real estate owners account for more than half of Massachusetts’ rental homes, according to the Small Property Owners Association, whose members told the committee that aid was slow to arrive.
SPOA Vice President Amir Shahsavari said the legislation would “exacerbate this problem by continuing the eviction moratorium without addressing the underlying issue”.
“The dollars have been allocated, but they don’t come to the landowners,” said Shahsavari, calling on lawmakers to create a new owner-based rent relief program that allows landlords to seek help directly.
Since its inception in October, the state has provided tenants and landlords with around $ 280 million in rental support, the Baker government said last month. Previous estimates showed Massachusetts had up to $ 968 million to distribute, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars unused.
According to the administration, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) offers up to 18 months of assistance with overdue and future rents incurred during the pandemic. Both the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) programs offer income-earning households up to $ 10,000 to cover rent, mortgage, or incidental expenses.
In an Aug. 4 letter to lawmakers, Secretary of State for the Department of Housing and Community Development, Jennifer Maddox, said proponents were wrong to claim that 90 percent of the proposals would be denied.
From May 31 to July 19, regional housing companies processed 18,396 applications for ERAP, RAFT, and ERMA, Maddox wrote. About 48 percent of those were approved, 45 percent timed out, and 7 percent were denied.
“In addition, the DHCD estimates that around 80% of applications are initially submitted incomplete,” wrote Maddox. “These incomplete applications pose a challenge as tenants have asked for assistance, but they or their landlord have not provided what the RAAs need to process the application.”
Supporters: Too many still in danger
While renters in Massachusetts were covered by either state or federal moratoriums from the pandemic, lawmakers and Baker let the state’s previous moratorium expire in October. Back then, Baker and law enforcement agencies started an eviction diversion program that provided tenants and property owners with additional emergency relief and legal assistance to those affected.
Baker and the Democratic Legislature have shown no public interest in reviving a temporary ban.
Massachusetts is in a better business climate than it was during the original state moratorium in office. The nationwide unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since the pandemic began in June, and some companies reported difficulties filling vacancies.
However, supporters of the bill said Thursday that many families are still at risk. Nearly 20,000 new evictions for non-payment of rent have been filed in Massachusetts since the state moratorium expired, according to trial court data, and S.891 sponsor Senator Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, said about 3,000 of these were related to evictions.
Take care of homeowners too
The spokesperson also said the concerns don’t apply solely to tenants.
Andrea Bopp Stark, an attorney employed by the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, told the committee that about 3.5 percent of the state’s more than 800,000 single-family mortgages – which represent approximately 28,000 households – are more than 90 days in arrears.
“That number rises to more than 15 percent of the over 87,000 Federal Housing Administration loans in Massachusetts,” she said. “FHA loans are the primary home ownership option for borrowers of color who have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. These are families who are unlikely to own their homes again if these defaults result in a foreclosure sale. “