Last week, 689 eviction cases were filed — notably higher than the average of 608 filings per week made in January and February this year, just before the state ban took effect in April amid the worsening health and financial crises, according to a report by the policy and research team at the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable housing organization.
“We’re facing a public health crisis,” Tom Hopper, director of research and analytics at MHP’s Center for Housing Data and a co-author of the report, told WBUR Monday. “So the idea that people are facing potential eviction right now is not just troubling from a household perspective, a community perspective, but also from a public health perspective.”
The moratorium — which was extended over the summer — prohibited “non-essential” residential evictions and foreclosures and small business evictions. The law expired last month, although Gov. Charlie Baker revealed at the time efforts to provide financial assistance to struggling renters and landlords totaling $171 million in new funding.
There remains a national moratorium by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that took hold in September through the end of the year. The law applies to cases that would “likely render the individual homeless” or require them to move into close quarters with other people.
Still, the MHP’s report — published by Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s research center — indicates that with nonpayment evictions starting up again and on the rise, the trend “could accelerate in the coming weeks due to a number of factors.”
Unpaid rent totals are still accruing for some renters. The report highlights the Census’ Household Pulse Survey — conducted for 17 weeks over the course of the pandemic — indicated approximately 14 percent of renter respondents in Massachusetts reached between Oct. 14 and 26, the latest available data set, had housing debt — about 161,000 households.
“We know that these trends are not consistent across race and ethnicity, as both the health and financial impacts of the pandemic have deepened existing housing stability disparities by race,” the report says. “Based on the most recent Household Pulse Survey data, between 23 and 48 percent of Black renters and between 12 and 27 percent of Latinx households were behind on rent, compared with lower estimates for White (between 7 and 14 percent) and Asian renters (less than 12 percent).”
The survey also asked respondents how likely it is they will have to leave their homes within the next two months because of eviction. The report notes that “fear of eviction is high.”
“Responses have varied over the past few deployments of the survey, but estimates have consistently shown tens of thousands of Massachusetts renters that are somewhat or highly likely to face eviction in the next two months and need to leave their homes,” the report says.
Call volume to the state’s social service information hotline also ticked up recently, showing people are reaching out more about housing issues, according to MHP. The uptick coincided with the end of the state moratorium and the launch of the new rental assistance initiatives, and the report also credits the increased volume with the rollout of a statewide marketing campaign.
“Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the week of November 1 saw roughly five times as many housing and shelter related calls coming into the call center,” the report says.
Furthermore, evictions that go through the court system are only one avenue for how tenants lose their homes, the report notes. More renters are likely impacted by the pandemic than those represented in court filing data alone.
“Tenants will often leave on their own in order to avoid the trauma of defending their tenancy and avoid the potential adverse credit impacts of an unfavorable judgment,” the report says. “Outcomes for undocumented residents are particularly difficult to quantify, as immigration status adds an additional layer of anxiety and vulnerability when considering how to respond to a Notice to Quit. While we may not be able to quantify these outcomes, we know that informal evictions have occurred throughout the pandemic, even when the state’s eviction moratorium was in place.”
As for ways to mitigate mounting evictions and concerns, the MHP pointed to the CDC’s eviction moratorium as well as the state’s Rental Assistance for Families in Transition, or RAFT, program.
“Rental Assistance for Families in Transition and other state and local emergency rental assistance programs are helping some residents repay rent debt and come to an agreement with their landlords that allows them to stay housed for the time being,” the report says. “New funding has been allocated to RAFT, the per-household limit has been increased from $4,000 to $10,000, and program enhancements have streamlined application processing.”
Delays in the court process can also buy time for those facing eviction, according to MHP.
“The court process is slow, and new procedural changes aimed at mediation will add significant time to eviction proceedings,” the report says.
Certain properties that received protections under the CARES Act, for example, must issue a Notice to Quit to tenants 30 days before an eviction, according to the report. In other eviction cases spurred by nonpayment of rent, that period is typically 14 days.
“Notices to Quit were prohibited by the state eviction moratorium, so the relatively low volume of new eviction filings in the first two weeks after the end of the moratorium could largely be attributed to this built-in waiting period,” the report says. “We do expect to see these numbers continue to rise in the coming weeks as more 14-day and 30-day notice periods end and turn into filings.”
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