Thousands facing eviction threats as result of pandemic

BOSTON — Advocacy group City Life Vida Urbana has been holding rallies to try to slow the tide of evictions for tenants like Jean Gaspard, one of the thousands across the state caught in a domino effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the first time that they’re facing a situation like this, they don’t know how to navigate the system and how to get help,” said Celinet Sanchez with the tenant advocacy group, Lynn United.

Sanchez is working to help renters like Marlen Rodriguez. Through a translator, the mother of two said she was laid off from her job and is now a year behind on her rent.

“The pandemic has affected me in all ways possible,” said Marlen through a Spanish interpreter.

Marlen said her eviction notice came in English only, and in her confusion, she said she missed her first court date. Marlen is trying to work with her landlord and the state to get raft rental assistance to cover the back rent.

There have been nearly 12,000 new residential eviction cases due to nonpayment of rent since the state lifted its eviction moratorium in October last year. Landlords filed nearly 1,500 eviction cases against Massachusetts renters in May alone.

Boston 25 asked the Trial Court what’s being done to help tenants like Marlen navigate the eviction process post moratorium and if they have staff to manage it.

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In an email, a spokesperson said: “the housing court has worked collaboratively during the pandemic with the office of language access to provide free remote interpreter services.”

They also said they are staffed up with 131 full-time employees, including 14 judges and 31 housing specialists as of May.

State Representative Mike Connolly said: “94.3% of these defendants who are facing eviction do not have full legal representation.”

Connolly co-authored a bill to prevent a landlord from starting an eviction due to COVID-19 payment issues unless the tenant and landlord have tried to get short-term emergency rental assistance. That’s something landlords we spoke to support.

“What they should have done from the beginning is focus on rent assistance to help people who really need help to pay the rent so that the landlord can pay for the maintenance, pay their property taxes and mortgages, and get that moving that way,” said landlord Mitch Matorin.

Matorin was among a group of landlords who unsuccessfully challenged the state’s moratorium in court, calling it “unconstitutional.” He said the political tug-of-war could result in higher rents in the long run.

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“You end up with people having to sell properties, which means new investors come in to buy them [and] put them at a higher price. They have a brand new mortgage that needs to be paid off, and they have to jack up the rent in order to cover those costs,” Matorin said.

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