We are assuming Gov. Charlie Baker had a solution in mind when he indicated late last month that he would let the state’s COVID-19 eviction ban lapse on Oct. 17.
With that date a little more than two weeks away, now would be the time to unveil that plan to the public. Tenants and landlords both deserve clarity heading into a fall and winter that will still be dominated by high unemployment, a sluggish economy and widespread coronavirus restrictions. The crisis won’t end Oct. 17, even if the eviction ban does.
Speaking in Lowell on Sept. 24, Baker said he was working with the state Housing Court on a plan to help those at risk of losing their homes, but offered no details, other than to say he wants a system that protects both renters and landlords.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are working on their own plan, but there’s little hope of passing legislation by Oct. 17.
The Massachusetts moratorium, enacted by Baker during the state of emergency that began in March, is credited with preventing thousands of evictions. Early last month, the federal government implemented its own ban, which is set to expire at the end of the year. Both face court challenges.
“Obviously, the public health emergency is still here and winter is coming,” House Housing Committee co-Chairman Kevin Honan told the State House News Service. “We continue to explore common ground with stakeholders, understanding that everyone is impacted by the pandemic, so there is a lot of work that remains to be done on this.”
The stakes are enormous. Housing advocates estimate the end of the moratorium could lead to between 20,000 and 80,000 evictions. The situation isn’t much better for landlords, Douglas Quattrocchi, executive director of the organization MassLandlords, told WGBH this summer.
“It’s been devastating for a lot of folks,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of expense that goes into housing. And even if we make it free for renters, if we don’t make it equally free for landlords, we’ve got a real disconnect.”
Baker appears to be leaning toward a mix of modified court rules and additional rental assistance, but he hasn’t made his intentions clear. Meanwhile, the bill before the House would bar evictions for missed rent payments and ban rent increases for a year after the state of emergency is lifted. It would also set up an aid fund for landlords with fewer than 15 units and let them move their missed mortgage payments to the end of their loan.
We’re hopeful state leaders can come up with a workable solution. But they must move quickly, however, with a transparency and clarity that helps renters and landlords prepare for the next several months. Not doing so would be an enormous failure during a time of crisis.