Surge of MA renters seeking assistance as federal moratorium set to expire

BOSTON — Shelters across Boston and the state of Massachusetts are seeing an increase in people seeking rental assistance ahead of the expiration of a federal eviction moratorium. The ban that’s made it temporarily illegal for Americans to be evicted from their homes is set to lift on Saturday, July 31.

Massachusetts extended its own eviction moratorium until April 2022, but it doesn’t apply to everyone across the board. Tenants can only qualify if they can prove they’ve fallen behind on rent due to a COVID-19 related reason and must be in the active process of getting rental assistance.

The confusion is being felt at shelters all over the Commonwealth.

“We are seeing a real surge at our door for advocacy services,” said Jennifer Hanlon Wigon, the executive director of Women’s Lunch Place on Newbury Street. “We’re very concerned with the numbers we are seeing.”

Hanlon Wigon told Boston 25 News she believes some tenants are leaving their housing situation before any type of formal eviction.

“People are either forced or coerced or they make the choice that they can’t pay the bill and they’re going to leave,” she explained. “If what we’re seeing at our door is an indicator, I think it could be fairly quick that people are leaving their housing.”

Hanlon Wigon estimates that more than 150,000 Massachusetts households are behind on rent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, upwards of 10 million Americans are at risk of eviction.

“We think the repercussions of the lifting of the CDC moratorium will be felt for a long time,” said Kelly Turley, the associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

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Turley said she’s concerned there could be a dramatic increase in homelessness across Massachusetts. She pointed to over 18,000 pending eviction cases across the commonwealth. Some of those cases could move to the execution phase when the federal moratorium vanishes.

“This isn’t just in urban areas but rural and suburban areas. It’s in every pocket of the commonwealth given the level of housing instability and the number of pending evictions,” she said.

Massachusetts and other states across the country are still scrambling to distribute the $45 billion in rental assistance allocated by Congress to address the crisis. Locally, millions of dollars are available to tenants through Boston’s Rental Relief Fund and the state’s Residential Assistance for Families in Transition.

The non-profit organization Metro Housing Boston wants people who have rent debt to know their rights. An explanation from the organization lays out some of the protocols for tenants to be aware of:

“Until Jan. 1, 2023, Landlords are required to send a notice to quit for non-payment of rent. A Notice to Quit is NOT an eviction. You do not need to immediately leave your apartment. You are entitled to a legal proceeding in which you can defend against an eviction. ONLY a court order can force you to leave your apartment.

“Until Jan. 1, 2023, a Notice to Quit must be accompanied by information about tenant’s rights and rental assistance options.”

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