Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Housing stability law needed 

Massachusetts Housing Court officials and landlord advocates are predicting tens of thousands of evictions immediately after the current moratorium expires in October, possibly as we battle a second wave of COVID-19 infections. That would be devastating for Lynn and it would hit low and moderate-income working class households, people of color, and other vulnerable groups the hardest.

“An Act to guarantee housing stability during the COVID-19 emergency and recovery” (House4878/Senate2831) is a balanced proposal to prevent that catastrophe, protect public health, and pave the way for a strong and equitable recovery. 

It is cosponsored by 89 members of the Massachusetts Legislature and has provisions to prevent displacement while protecting tenants, homeowners, and small-scale landlords alike. There is no other proposal that would prevent our state’s legal system from becoming an assembly line for a massive number of pandemic-related evictions and foreclosures.

Unfortunately, the Item’s July 25 editorial, “Let’s listen to landlords,” did not describe some of its key provisions. One clear example: the editorial raises a concern about landlords being unable to pay their mortgages. Unmentioned are sections five and six of the bill, which address exactly that issue. 

Section six grants homeowners and small-scale landlords with up to 15 units, and nonprofits the right to pause payment on their mortgage for up to one year, with missed payments put on the end of the loan and no penalties or added interest. 

Section five applies to owner-occupied homes with up to four units, and prohibits foreclosures based on mortgage payments missed during the COVID-19 emergency and recovery period.

The editorial also may leave some readers with the impression that the bill would ban nearly all evictions. That is not the case. The proposal actually prohibits only two particular types of evictions, and they are the kinds of evictions that decent landlords wouldn’t pursue in this moment of crisis anyway. 

Section three of the bill temporarily bans “no cause” evictions, in which a landlord seeks to evict even though a tenant is up-to-date on rent and has not violated any rules. That provision does not apply to owner-occupant landlords. It is also temporary; it applies statewide during the COVID-19 emergency and a 12 month recovery period, with an option for municipalities to extend if they so choose. 

Section two of the bill prevents evictions based on nonpayment of rent, but only if the impact of COVID-19 is the reason a tenant is unable to pay.

After three months of a broader state eviction moratorium, the evidence is in: the vast majority of tenants are paying rent despite the ban on evictions, in many cases even when they are struggling to afford food and basic necessities. 

Around the country, the story is the same: with a tiny number of exceptions, almost everyone missing rent just doesn’t have the money.

Mass evictions of people who are unable to make housing payments due to COVID-19 would be immoral and dangerous to public health, and would further entrench economic inequity and systemic racism. Widespread foreclosures of homeowners and small-scale landlords would also be disastrous. 

“An Act to guarantee housing stability during the COVID-19 emergency and recovery” is a temporary, emergency measure that protects each of these groups, and it should be passed immediately. Inaction would be cruel and dangerous.

Isaac Simon Hodes

Lynn

 

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