Residents across Massachusetts take collective action to win strong ban on evictions and foreclosures
April 20, 2020 – Massachusetts Governor Baker has signed into law one of the country's strongest moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 crisis, H.4647. Well over 1,000 residents took collective action to win the passage of the law - including sending hundreds of emails urging Baker to sign it in the days leading up to its passage.
Here's what Massachusetts' moratorium does:
✅ Stops landlords from sending Notices To Quit
✅ Stops courts from hearing eviction cases or entering judgments
✅ Stops sheriffs from enforcing executions for possession
✅ Stops late fees + negative reporting for COVID-impacted tenants
✅ Moratorium on residential foreclosures
✅ Moratorium on evictions of small businesses
Among the thousands of families who benefit from the moratorium is a New Bedford couple, Robert and Lauren. The moratorium became law on the eve before a constable was set to physically evict them from their apartment. Robert is a construction worker whose company has no work for him due to the pandemic, and Laura is immunocompromised. They've been unable to make rent lately, like thousands of other households across the Commonwealth.
After receiving a 48-hour eviction notice on their door last Thursday, Robert called our popular housing hotline. The couple received legal assistance and quickly began to share their story in hopes of not only saving their home but helping others across the state as well.
Hours before Baker signed the law, Robert recorded a selfie video to share with neighbors across Massachusetts. "This will be our home," Robert said, pointing to his car, "if a moratorium is not put into effect." Watch the powerful video below:
Tearful upon hearing the news that the moratorium had passed and will protect the couple from eviction, Robert wrote us an email saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Robert still plans on consulting with a legal aid attorney immediately to make sure that the new rules are enforced and the couple is safe.
Moments after Baker signed the bill, City Life/Vida Urbana tweeted: "OVER 1000 PEOPLE this weekend contacted @MassGovernor to win a strong #EvictionMoratorium in Massachusetts, helping families across MA keep their homes! Together, with our hearts and values, we defeated the real estate lobby's attempts to stop it."
The bill bans all stages of eviction, from the initial eviction notice to the final moment when a constable forces a resident from their home. It also bans evictions of small businesses. Because of the new moratorium, the Eviction Lab research project out of Princeton University has ranked Massachusetts #1 for strong housing policy during the COVID-19 crisis.
Large real estate groups had argued against the bill in recent days, some saying that it violates the state's constitution. Many took issue with the bill's ban on eviction notices.
"Eviction notices often lead to families just packing up and leaving. Big real estate companies know that well. Most people don't know their rights and they panic," said Alex Ponte-Capellan, a Housing Justice Organizer at City Life/Vida Urbana.
"At heart, we value people over profits," added Alex. "It's just sad how real estate lobbyists tried to stop these protections. It's a life or death issue," he added.
"The old rules, where real estate groups legislate our housing system, don't apply anymore - we have to move beyond that unjust system for our survival now," said Ponte-Capellan.
A broad coalition of community groups, labor unions, teachers unions, domestic violence centers, public health organizations, and legal advocates are welcoming the passage of the strong moratorium. Over 200 organizations in Massachusetts pushed for the bill. Core to the campaign was the state-wide coalition Homes For All Massachusetts, legal aid groups Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Greater Boston Legal Services, and the Massachusetts Community Action Network.
Community leaders view the strong moratorium bill as an important step in addressing the disparate impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on communities afflicted by institutional racism and economic injustice.
“Before the pandemic, displacement was already wreaking havoc on working class neighborhoods and communities of color,” noted Isaac Simon Hodes of Lynn United for Change. “Evictions and foreclosures have always had a terrible impact on health, and now the coronavirus has turned them into even deadlier threats. A lot more needs to be done, but this moratorium is an important start in protecting vulnerable people during the coronavirus crisis.”
The urgency of the problem is clear, with over 700 new eviction cases filed statewide since March 13, and community groups reporting a flood of calls from people panicked by foreclosure letters or notices of eviction.
Betty Lewis, a grandmother and tenant association leader in Mattapan, received an eviction notice just days ago because she can't afford the $300 rent hike that Corcoran Management is asking from her.
"A lot of people don’t have money, we’re just getting by. We're real humans, real people, we deserve to have a place to stay,” said Betty, who was elated by the news of the bill's passage.
The Legislature’s action follows broad public support for a strong eviction and foreclosure moratorium, which reflects the widely felt impact of the crisis on both tenants and homeowners.
“In just over one day, more than 200 community groups, congregations, and unions signed on to a letter in support of a moratorium,” says Lew Finfer of MA Communities Action Network. “That coalition is ready to push for the longer-term mortgage and rent relief discussed in the letter. We’re really encouraged that key leaders in the State House are already talking about the need for additional measures and we look forward to working with them on that effort.”
We commend the legislators who helped to push the moratorium forward, including Representatives Mike Connolly, Kevin Honan, Nika Elugardo, Aaron Michlewitz, Speaker DeLeo and others. Senators Karen Spilka and Michael Rodrigues were also behind the bill.
In addition to temporarily halting residential and small business evictions and foreclosures, the final measure also requires that lenders offer small homeowners a mortgage forbearance, adding payments at end of the loan term.
“This bill is a good start, but we also need parallel relief for renters to prevent a wave of evictions after the emergency is lifted,” says Rose Webster-Smith of Springfield No One Leaves.
“Also, we’ve got to make sure that no one is burdened by crushing housing debt in the aftermath of the crisis," added Rose. "We hope to move forward rent relief for tenants alongside additional help for homeowners, owner-occupant landlords, and others impacted by the crisis," said Rose.
"Anyone who wants to support that should sign the petition from Homes for All Massachusetts at www.HousingGuarantee.org,” Rose said.
Photo above: Ms. Betty Lewis, a Boston grandmother who received an eviction notice during the COVID-19 pandemic.