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Residents call for action on COVID-19 housing equity bill

  • Local residents and members of the Homes For All Massachusetts...

    Local residents and members of the Homes For All Massachusetts coalition meet at First Parish Church United in Westford to speak out about the state’s housing crisis. (Shane Rhodes/Nashoba Valley Voice)

  • Statewide organizer of City Life/Vida Urbana, Ronel Remy, speaks to...

    Statewide organizer of City Life/Vida Urbana, Ronel Remy, speaks to a crowd on the Westford town common. (Shane Rhodes/Nashoba Valley Voice)

  • Local residents and members of the Homes For All Massachusetts...

    Local residents and members of the Homes For All Massachusetts coalition meet at First Parish Church United in Westford to speak out about the state’s housing crisis. (Shane Rhodes/Nashoba Valley Voice)

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WESTFORD — Residents from across Massachusetts and representatives from the Homes For All Massachusetts coalition gathered at First Parish Church United Monday to speak out about the state’s housing crisis.

Focused primarily on the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill, also known as “An act to prevent COVID-19 evictions and foreclosures and promote an equitable housing recovery” (H.1434/S.891), advocates gave testimony as to the impact of COVID-19 on the housing market. Massachusetts has seen more than 30,000 evictions and foreclosures since the end of the state’s eviction moratorium in October 2020.

“We are here to make a difference and ask people to do what is right,” said Ronel Remy, the statewide organizer of City Life/Vida Urbana, an organization dedicated to racial, social and economic justice.

Supporters noted the urgency with which the state Legislature must act to protect residents and avoid further crises.

“We’re here because we have a crisis in our communities,” said Isaiah Simon Hodes, director of the Lynn United for Change Empowerment Project. “We’re here because we know there’s a solution to the pandemic’s eviction and foreclosure crisis: the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill.”

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the bill was “very important.”

“The prices of homes and rents continue to skyrocket,” Eldridge said in a phone interview. “With the increased pressure on people, I’m very supportive of (the bill).”

Stalled in the Joint Committee on Housing, the bill is designed to aid both tenants and homeowners. It would require landlords to pursue rental assistance before eviction, would pause the filing of no-fault evictions and foreclosures, allow forbearance based on federal guidelines and require the state to make rental assistance more accessible.

Supporters highlighted the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act – which would afford tenants in larger buildings the right to match any offer when their building is sold – and local-option rent control as other policies that could provide further aid.

Eldridge also suggested his bill, “An act to reduce the financial barriers to renting homes” (S.884), as another potential avenue. The bill would alleviate rental costs by limiting landlords to charging just two months of rent upfront, while also shifting potential brokerage fees from tenants to landlords. Currently, landlords may charge in excess of four months of rent.

Further action by the state Legislature would be required for any of these policies to have an impact. If neither H.1434 nor S.884 are recommended or extended this week, they could be given a study order. For the vast majority of bills sent to a study order, there is no further activity.

“We’re urging, pleading with (legislators) to hear the voices of the people that are dealing with this every day in communities across the state and take action,” Hodes said.

Many residents echoed Hodes. Anxiety, desperation and sleepless nights are prevalent among residents – renters, homeowners and landlords alike.

One Lynn resident, through a translator, described the looming threat of eviction as “torture.” Another pleaded with legislators to “have compassion for the families confronting these threats” every day.

“We have this last little shred of hope left,” Hodes said. “The Legislature, the ball is in their court.”

While certain rental assistance programs remain active, they “exclude some of the most vulnerable tenants,” according to Hodes. He was also critical of recent changes made to those programs by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.

“They need to reverse changes made as of Jan. 1 that are starting to scale back programs,” Hodes said. “That’s exactly the wrong direction.

“These programs have been a lifeline, they need to be funded and extended and made more accessible,” he said.

Both Hodes and Remy were deeply concerned for residents should the state Legislature’s inaction continue. Hodes said it would be “a devastating blow” to the “most vulnerable” tenants and communities.

Both urged everyone to contact their local legislators as well as those on the Housing Committee.

“Homelessness is going to be a serious problem,” Remy said. “In almost every town we go to, shelters are already overrun, so there’s going to be a lot more of that and a lot more deaths because of that.

“It’s shameful, but that’s what’s coming if we don’t act,” he said.

For more information, visit https://www.homesforallmass.org/ or https://www.clvu.org/.