Springfield official, organizations describe deep need for rent and utility assistance during COVID pandemic

March 4, 2021

Written by Peter Goonan, The Republican

Link to orginal article

SPRINGFIELD — City officials and organizations that help the homeless and poor said this week there remains a dire need for financial assistance and guidance as families cope with rent arrears and the threat of evictions.

The challenges were discussed during a meeting on Tuesday conducted by the City Council’s COVID-19 Response Committee.

Geraldine McCafferty, the city’s director of housing, said Wednesday in the aftermath of the meeting that thousands of residents are at threat of eviction or foreclosure under the pandemic.

“There is a critical need for rent, mortgage and utility assistance, to fill the lost-income gap and keep people in their homes,” McCafferty said. “Springfield also has many small landlords, who rely on the payments their tenants have been unable to make.”

Others who attended the meeting included representatives of Way Finders, based in Springfield, and Springfield No One Leaves, and Community Legal Aid, among those who aid people faced with evictions and foreclosures.

Springfield thus far has allocated $2.9 million in federal funds to aid those faced with housing instability, most provided to Way Finders as its regional administrator, McCafferty said. Agencies such as Way Finders also receive direct state grants to aid tenants and homeowners.

Keith Fairey, chief executive officer of Way Finders, told councilors there has been “an overwhelming demand” for rental and utility resources and a great need for guidance in the application process.. The agency serves Hampden and Hampshire counties and has dealt with thousands of applications, he said.

The funds provided “have had a great impact on many households,” he said. The agency continues to recerive 60 to 70 applications daily, and has significantly sped up the review process, he said.

A major challenge, however, is incomplete applications, and the agency has expanded staff and resources, he said.

Evictions were stopped under a COVID-19 moratorium, but evictions were allowed to resume in October, officials said. There have been 98 evictions executed in Springfield since the moratorium lifted, with agencies providing assistance before, during and after evictions, including prevention efforts, officials said.

“COVID has caused loss of income for so many—due to job loss, reduced wages, inability to work because children are home, and illness,” McCafferty said. “For a lot of households, the interruption of income has been ongoing, meaning many months of unpaid utilities and rent or mortgage.”

Additional homeless prevention funds were allocated to New North Citizens Council, Catholic Charities, the YWCA, and Friends of the Homeless, McCafferty said. The total of those amounts are $805,030, with grants that started Oct. 1, 2020.

Councilor Jesse Lederman, chairman of the COVID-19 Response Committee, urged residents in need to contact community organizations such as those who attended the meeting.

“The pandemic has exacerbated an already serious housing crisis,” Lederman said,. praising the efforts of organizations and other advocates.

Additional COVID-19 relief is being debated before the U.S. Senate, including rent assistance.

Additional statewide legislation and protections are needed “to begin planning for the long term response that will be necessary when pandemic recovery begins,” Lederman said.

There are also organizations that can help residents with understanding their rights and responsibilities and to connect with available resources, he said.

Rose Webster Smith, representing Springfield No One Leaves, said there were hundreds of eviction cases filed in Housing Court, and another 150 homeowners have private loans in danger of foreclosure.

Many tenants need help with accessing court information, by remote, and with tying in to finanical aid, she said, praising Way Finders’ outreach effort.

“I know Way Finders is dealing with a huge, huge amount of applications because the need is so great here,” Webster-Smith said.