The processing of nearly 19,000 Massachusetts eviction cases on pause amid the pandemic starts Monday and with lawmakers on summer break, one local senator says renters’ best hope is local advocacy groups.
“Don’t wait for the government to come rescue you,” Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, told the Herald. “The thing that people should do — moratorium or not — is reach out to the housing agencies that help people. And call your legislators — people need to tell their stories.”
A federal ban protecting renters who stopped paying during the pandemic expired on July 31.
President Biden on Friday called on “all state and local governments” to speed up payouts of billions in federal aid dollars earmarked for housing relief.
“State and local governments should also be aware that there is no legal barrier to moratorium at the state and local level. My Administration will not rest — nor should state and local governments — until Emergency Rental Assistance dollars reach Americans in need,” Biden said in a statement.
Dozens of bills that could make housing court easier for tenants to navigate are tied up in various committees but Democratic legislative leaders have shown little appetite for bringing back a state eviction moratorium that expired last October.
Lawmakers on Tuesday will consider 50 bills related to property, tenancy and eviction as the Joint Committee on the Judiciary meets in informal session.
One bill filed by Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville, would require the state to make legal counsel universally available in eviction cases. Massachusetts Trial Court data show that more than 90% of defendants in eviction cases have no representation compared to just 15% of landlords. Other bills on the committee agenda would create a new Foreclosure Review Division in the state Superior Court or impose a two-year moratorium on nonjudicial foreclosures involving some residential properties.
A bill filed by Jehlen and Reps. Frank Moran and Kevin Honan that would put a temporary pause on evictions and foreclosures until June 2022 is not on the agenda on Tuesday and likely won’t see a hearing until at least the fall, Jehlen said. Lawmakers are currently on break and won’t hold another formal session until after Labor Day.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has put about $280 million in rental assistance into the pockets of tenants and landlords and the Republican governor said last week he thinks his eviction diversion effort has “worked very well.”
“The bottom line is, we did put a pretty significant diversion program in place and it’s worked very well and I think in some respects, we were ahead of the game among most states because we had a state program.”
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