Housing advocates want COVID-19 protections extended, enhanced

Housing advocates want COVID-19 protections extended, enhanced

MALDEN, Mass. — It was bad enough that Courtney Desmond lost her job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of May, she faced the prospect of losing the Malden apartment on Linden Avenue she’s occupied for 10 years. 

“On May 30, we came home... there were notices for all seven apartments posted on the door saying that we have a notice to quit,” she said. “We have to be out by June 30 or if we want to stay we can sign a one-year lease with rapidly rising rents.”

Desmond said the rent increases ranged from 25 to 60%.

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Fortunately, Desmond knew the state enacted a moratorium on evictions in mid-April due to the pandemic. With the help of the housing advocacy group City Life, Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as Malden's mayor and other local officials, Desmond was able to get the eviction notices pulled. 

“As of right now the landlord did agree to a rent freeze for nine months and they agreed they would not make us pay for our electricity for the next nine months,” she said. 

But the future for other tenants, when it comes to rent increases and evictions, becomes unclear in less than two months. That’s when the eviction moratorium is set to expire. City Life’s Gabriel Cartagena is predicting dire consequences come August 18, “The housing court predicts over 20,000 evictions that are in process and new,” she said. 

Monday, City Life plans to release a report on eviction trends. Cartagena says it will not surprise. "That report just lets us know something we've already been seeing for decades. That communities of color are the most vulnerable to evictions because we're unaware of our rights and because we don't know how to best use our rights to defend our homes."

Among those at the highest risk of eviction, Cartagena said: African-Americans and those who are undocumented. “Here at City Life, we have a saying. Racial justice is housing justice. Until we get housing justice we’re not going to be anywhere close to reaching racial justice.”

Sunday afternoon, City Life organized a caravan to publicize the issue of affordable housing, the expiring moratorium and a new bill the group is backing to promote ‘housing stability’ for however long the COVID-19 crisis continues.

Several dozen vehicles joined in the parade, which made stops in the pouring rain at sites where tenants have faced rising rents and the threat of displacement.  

Late in the afternoon, the caravan reached Courtney Desmond's apartment house on Linden Avenue -- which she and other tenants say has been the target of noisy, disruptive work the past several weeks -- despite the fact many of the tenants are trying to work from home. 

Karen White says the noise got so bad one day, she had to take a call in a closet.  Still, she considers herself one of the lucky ones, in that she still has a job -- and an apartment she likes: a $1,300 a month studio. 

“The current rent that I’m paying is more than fair,” White said. “But in this new lease agreement, they want to raise it $200 more.”

That was about what she was paying in Boston -- and the whole idea of moving to Malden was to save money. Asked whether she thinks the landlord didn’t know about the moratorium on evictions, White is unequivocal on that: “People who aren’t even renting and own properties are aware of this moratorium,” she said. “Like how can you miss it?” 

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