Most Boston city councilors have expressed support for a rent moratorium. A resolution still stalled.

"With everything we seem to be dealing with lately, it’s a Rubik's Cube. We make one move and there’s ramifications on the other side."

–David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

Most of Boston’s 13 city councilors Wednesday stood behind a resolution calling for all levels of government to roll out a freeze on rent and mortgage payments, as well as on evictions and foreclosures, as the workforce takes an unprecedented hit from the COVID-19 fallout.

“Right now there are residents wondering how they’re going to pay their rent and are running out of money for food and medications,” sponsor Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said, during the council’s meeting held over video conference. “There are business owners who have poured their lives into their businesses and, without rental relief, are looking at shuttering those businesses forever. And there are homeowners and property owners who pay some of the highest mortgages in the country and are scared of losing their homes and properties … due to COVID-related loss of income.”

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But the statement of support fell short of going to an immediate vote and will now, instead, go to committee review after an objection from Councilor Frank Baker.

“This is quite a complex issue here, and, being a landlord myself, [I] have reached out to our tenants just to make sure we’re working with them,” Baker said. “I would like to invoke Rule 33 and make sure this goes into committee and we don’t take a vote on this today.”

The resolution follows similar calls from lawmakers across the government spectrum, including from Mayor Marty Walsh, who, along with local real estate and community organizations, has urged property owners to forgo evictions for 90 days.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Housing Court announced it was suspending most eviction proceedings until at least April 21. The Boston Housing Authority told the Housing Court it will not pursue “non-essential eviction actions” for as long as the commonwealth remains in a state of emergency.

Arroyo’s proposal asks the council to request the city, state, and federal governments to “use the powers vested within them” to issue an immediate moratorium “for an indefinite period of time until the end of the COVID-19 epidemic.”

The District 5 councilor says measures suspending mortgage payments have been used in both Italy and New York. The action would reassure many who are struggling to make ends meet during a tumultuous time, according to Arroyo.

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Even after the pandemic’s health threat concludes, residents would owe “crippling debts” to landlords, and landlords would owe the same to banks, he said.

“I’ve received phone calls and emails from residents facing some of the most difficult moments of their lives,” he said. “Many of our residents are currently isolated at home. Many have lost work. Many have shuttered their businesses and are afraid of their current financial reality.”

But Baker said he believes the matter is “too complex.”

“I don’t think it’s within our power to call a moratorium on rent,” he said.

Arroyo, on Twitter later Wednesday, urged constituents to contact Baker.

“His objection denied us a vote on this,” Arroyo wrote.

Still, the complexity of the issue is also not lost on even those lawmakers who support it.

“With everything we seem to be dealing with lately, it’s a Rubik’s Cube,” Councilor Matt O’Malley said. “We make one move and there’s ramifications on the other side.

“But ultimately, this is a solid idea, a good idea — one that I support,” he added.

Councilor Michael Flaherty, adding his name to the resolution, said Arroyo must work with the Walsh administration and housing leaders. Pressure should be placed on state lawmakers to ensure any forthcoming measure is tailored so “it’s reaching the people who really need it,” he said.

It’s important that essential workers who are still receiving regular paychecks, continue to pay as they can, he said.

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“We’re going to need them to do so to make sure we get our economy on track when, with the hope of God, this (virus) passes,” Flaherty said.

Councilor Lydia Edwards said officials need to acknowledge the burden that could come attached with such a moratorium; that both tenants and landlords are struggling and that there must be solutions to help people once payments would be required again.

Echoing Edward’s sentiments, Councilor Liz Breadon made note of “holding up those landlords who are being very responsible, who are working with their tenants.”

“Compassion and humanity is really important in this situation, and, even though it is complex, I feel we can come up with a path forward that will help support our business community, our renters, and our landlords together,” she said.

The council did, however, vote to pass resolutions asking the federal, state, and city governments to alleviate coronavirus-related health care costs for undocumented immigrants, to provide additional support for small businesses, and to expand assistance for workers who were laid off during the pandemic.

A hearing request proposed by Breadon to discuss social impacts of the coronavirus crisis, specifically domestic violence, mental health, and social isolation, was sent to committee for review.


Scenes from an eerily empty Boston


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