Census Bureau: 89,000 Mass. tenants have ‘no confidence’ they can pay rent

BOSTON — Amir Shahsavari is considered a small “mom and pop” landlord, overseeing 15 rental units in Boston and the North Shore.

“The last year has been incredibly difficult,” said Shahsavari, vice president of the Small Property Owners Association. “As far as small landlords are concerned, a lot of us feel as if we’ve been thrown into the ocean with no life jackets.”

Shahsavari said he had to work with some of his tenants unable to pay rent during the pandemic, but he felt like one of the lucky ones; other landlords have had a much harder time.

“I have heard a lot of stories where tenants refused to even talk to their landlords, even when the landlords offered flexible payment options,” he said.

According to a Household Pulse Survey conducted Apr. 28-May 10 by the U.S. Census Bureau, 89,505 Massachusetts renters said they had “no confidence” they could pay next month’s rent. 168,776 renters said they had “slight confidence” they could pay their landlord in June.

State housing advocates are concerned tens of thousands of Massachusetts tenants could face eviction after Gov. Charlie Baker’s State of Emergency expires June 15, followed by the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium June 30.

“We see a crisis ahead. We see thousands of people at risk,” said Denise Matthews-Turner, Interim-Executive Director for the Greater Boston housing advocacy group City Life.

The data-tracking group, National Equity Atlas estimates 91,000 Massachusetts households are behind on rent, owning more than $335 million.

“A lot of people fell behind during that period of time, some of them are still behind,” said Massachusetts Area Planning Council Executive Director Marc Draisen.

Draisen said eviction filings are ramping up across the state. According to data from the Massachusetts Trial Court Dashboard, landlords have filed hundreds of notices for non-payment in Worcester (760), Lowell (450), Dorchester (396), Framingham (299) and Brockton (283).

Doug Quattrochi, Executive Director of the Mass. Landlords Association, said many landlords sold their properties and left the business in 2020.

“It’s been really tough this last year because we provide a very expensive service,” Quattrochi said. “” We’ve lost a large number of ‘mom and pop’ housing providers. We saw our non-renewal rate triple.”

Quattrochi is concerned not enough renters are taking advantage of the state’s financial aid program, which totaled nearly a billion dollars after Congress and the Biden Administration allocated federal funding for Massachusetts.

The Dept. of Housing and Community Development has distributed $119.3 million through its Rental Assistance programs, helping 24,901 Massachusetts households.

“I think there hasn’t been the level of attention on this that there really should be. We have a billion dollars of rental assistance and if you apply for it and you fill out all of the boxes, you’re going to get it,” Quattrochi said.

Metro Housing Boston said it has since handed out $40 million to Greater Boston households since July 2020.

Shahsavari hopes with so much financial aid up for grabs, the number of evictions this summer won’t be as high as some think.

“I happen to be more optimistic. I think that the lifting of the [Massachusetts] State of Emergency and the ending of the [CDC] moratorium will motivate more tenants to communicate with their landlords and I think both sides will be able to work out flexible agreements,” Shahsavari said.

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