Gov. Baker announces $20 million in rental, mortgage assistance during coronavirus pandemic

June 30, 2020

Media Coverage

MassLive: Written by Steph Solis

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The Baker administration on Tuesday announced an emergency housing program that would offer to $20 million in rental and mortgage assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked about the looming expiration date of the eviction moratorium, however, Gov. Charlie Baker said he hasn’t decided whether to extend it or let the restrictions lift after Aug. 18.

“We continue to talk to folks in the housing community about what some of the key issues are, but I don’t think we’re in a position to make a decision on that today,” Baker said during a news briefing Tuesday afternoon at the Massachusetts State House.

Thousands of evictions have been filed even with the moratorium in place. Baker signed the moratorium into law after the Legislature sent it to his desk, following calls from advocates to stop landlords from kicking out renters who are struggling to pay their rents during the pandemic.

The Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program, or ERMA, would give money to eligible households that have suffered financial hardships during the state of emergency declared over COVID-19. ERMA will provide up to $4,000 for eligible households to pay rent or mortgages going back to April 1.

ERMA includes households within 50 to 80 percent of the area medium income, which is higher than the threshold under the state’s Residential Assistance for Families and Transition or RAFT program.

Half of the money came from federal funding, including the CDBG Coronavirus fund under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act.

Applications open on Wednesday. Residents can apply through one of 11 agencies that give out RAFT for the state, including the nine Housing Consumer Education CentersLHAND and the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance.

When asked about the eviction moratorium, Baker said there are several other resources at work. He said the state Department of Housing and Community Development has received more than $160 million through the CARES Act. Baker also gave another $5 million to RAFT in March as the pandemic started to hit Massachusetts.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Baker’s Housing Choice legislation, which would generate 135,000 new housing units in Massachusetts.

“The funding we are making available is important in the short term, but we know there was a housing crisis in Massachusetts before COVID-19 hit,” she said. “We cannot address the housing issues of 2020 without the restrictive housing laws changed that are in our books today.”

Meanwhile, housing advocates and lawmakers have called on Baker to extend the eviction moratorium.

The moratorium law, which Baker signed in April, allows the moratorium to lift 120 days after the law takes effect or 45 days after the emergency declaration has been lifted, whichever is sooner. But it also allows the governor to postpone the moratorium’s expiration in 90-day intervals as long as the moratorium doesn’t last later than 45 days after the emergency declaration ends.

Reps. Mike Connolly and Kevin Honan filed a bill on Tuesday that would expand the eviction moratorium for up to a year after the emergency declaration lifts. The bill would also establish a COVID-19 Housing Stability and Recovery Fund to help eligible property owners who lost rental income or missed mortgage payments due to COVID-19, as long as they extend protections to tenants.

The bill proposes other protections for homeowners and owner-occupant landlords, including canceling foreclosures based on missed payments up to a year after the state of emergency, expanding mortgage deferment protections to landlords who own up to 15 rental units and expanding the current mortgage deferment option for a year after the state of emergency, Connolly wrote on his website.

Citing Housing Court staff, Connolly says an estimated 20,000 eviction cases will be filed as soon as the moratorium ends.

“The commonwealth was already in the midst of a historic housing crisis before COVID-19. If we fail to act now we will face a massive wave of evictions and foreclosures,” Connolly wrote. “The consequences will likely be new surges of infection, increased displacement, further destruction of neighborhoods and increased numbers of people experiencing homelessness.”

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