Coronavirus

How the end of the federal eviction moratorium could impact Chinatown

"Families are dealing with a lot right now and it’s important for people to have safety nets."

The Chinese Merchants Association building is photographed in Chinatown on Wednesday afternoon. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The federal eviction moratorium established by the CDC expires on July 31, and community organizations are concerned how it will impact Chinatown residents.

It all boils down to an incredibly confusing landscape for tenants to navigate, housing advocates said, which in Chinatown is complicated by frequent language barriers and a higher number of informal leases.

“Families are dealing with a lot right now and it’s important for people to have safety nets,” Karen Chen, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, told Boston.com. “Really, stable housing should be a social safety net everyone should have, but since that’s not where we’re at, having the eviction moratorium is that safety net for people. It’s the last one – we lost the state eviction moratorium and now the federal one.”

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Massachusetts’s eviction moratorium expired in October 2020, but in June the state legislature passed a bill extending some pandemic eviction protections through April 2022. Those protections only apply to renters who are in the process of applying for rental assistance from the state, and some believe it doesn’t go far enough to protect tenants.

“This is definitely not an extension of the moratorium,” Eloise Lawrence of Harvard Legal Aid told Boston 25 News in June. “It’s a critical piece to try to cobble some protections, but we need more.”

The federal moratorium broadly prevents the eviction of tenants who can’t make rental payments, so with its expiration, only renters seeking state assistance will be protected in Massachusetts.

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In Chinatown, Chen said they aren’t predicting an immediate tidal wave of evictions – though thousands have been filed since the state moratorium lifted in October – but that more and more people will become unstably housed.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the floodgates opening and a rush out of the gate, but the impact is definitely there,” she said. “You won’t see people pouring to court – I think there will be evictions that increase in court – but in our community a lot of evictions are informal, and people who aren’t in a normal situation might not be willing to fight, whereas before when you had the moratorium it was just, well, there’s an eviction moratorium.”

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The work has therefore focused on outreach notifying tenants of their rights and the many resources available to them. Angie Liou, executive director of the Asian Community Development Corporation, told Boston.com that a big part of their work since the state moratorium expired has been connecting Chinese-speaking residents to the state emergency housing assistance programs.

“There have been a lot of relief programs that sprung up…but there’s so much information which is confusing for people,” she said. “Most of our constituents have limited English proficiency or are monolingual…what we found is most of them didn’t even know about these programs so a big part of what we had to do was a big outreach push…and helping them apply for those.”

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According to a city spokesperson, Boston currently has millions available to tenants through the city’s Rental Relief Fund and the state’s RAFT program, and landlords can access funds to pay mortgages through the state’s ERMA program. As of July 26, the city had distributed more than $16 million to 3,000 families.

Landlords are also required to provide a notice of tenant’s rights and resources and submit a copy of the notice to quit to Boston’s Office of Housing Stability, which allows city agencies to reach out.

Liou, however, also called out the anticipated end of the expanded unemployment benefits in September as another date to be concerned about. More needs to be done at every level, she said, to prevent harmful impacts on Chinatown and other vulnerable neighborhoods.

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“Chinatown residents disproportionately work in low-wage jobs with not a lot of protection, so the pandemic has made us think about…really what would protect them long term are things like paid sick leave, higher minimum wages,” she said. “Many work in lower-wage jobs where if you don’t go to work you don’t get paid…so these are protections we’re thinking about long-term structurally would protect them better.”

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