The Biden administration has extended a federal moratorium on eviction through July, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aiming to prevent the eviction of many who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic.
The federal moratorium was first set to expire at the end of June. The extension has been met with cautious relief from housing advocates in New Bedford, and also frustration from landlords, who say they feel hamstrung by the prevention of what they see as a standard and necessary practice.
For tenants, landlords and homeowners, a large amount of rental relief funds are available to those in need, and will continue to be available after the federal moratorium on eviction expires, now at the end of July.
In New Bedford, landlords have filed 415 individual evictions against renters since October of 2020, when the state moratorium on evictions expired, according to the Massachusetts Trial Court database. Bristol County currently leads the state in executions of eviction issued to renters.
“There are still many people out there facing eviction,” said Diana Painter, deputy director for the Coalition for Social Justice, one of many housing advocate groups in the area working to connect tenants with legal services and rental relief programs bolstered by federal and state aid during the pandemic.
Though she said the extension of the moratorium is a relief for renters, it’s seen as a temporary solution to what may be a long-term issue in areas like New Bedford, where many are still struggling to pull themselves out of backlogged rent due to pandemic-related loss of income.
The federal moratorium on evictions expires at the end of June. Many have already fallen through the cracks.
She said her organization hopes the Legislature will come up with solutions confronting the root cause of these issues, like rent control, continued eviction protections and continuing to boost rental relief programs after the moratorium expires in July.
“It’s a bit of kicking the bucket down the road,” Painter said. “It’s not the last step, but it is an important step towards making sure we don’t see don’t see a spike in homelessness and can protect the health and safety of vulnerable folks.”
It’s unclear if this will be the final extension of the moratorium.
For landlords, the extension of the moratorium has been met with more frustration. Like housing advocates, some landlords say the federal moratorium has not been effective in the first place, as evictions have continued through the moratorium. Some landlords also say they are frustrated that the federal rental relief programs still in place have not gotten back to landlords, some of whom said they have struggled to pay their mortgages.
“These moratoriums are unconstitutional to property owners,” said David Silveira, a landlord in New Bedford and board member of the Greater New Bedford Landlord Association. “Whether it’s a guy that owns two units or two thousand units. You can bury guys like that.”
Though he said the association is against the extension of the moratorium, Silveira said he personally has not had any problem evicting tenants. Of the 12 apartments he rents, he said he has effectively issued evictions to three tenants this year due to non-payment of rent. All his other tenants are current on their payments, he said.
“It hasn’t affected my overall situation much,” he said. “But it keeps our hands tied … we’re all wondering at what point does it end?”
Though the federal moratorium of eviction will be extended by just one month, there is still a large amount of rental relief programs and legal services available. Dozens of local, county and state organizations are working to connect tenants, landlords and homeowners facing pandemic-related financial difficulties to these programs.
Housing advocates urge that these services and programs will still be available to those in need, even after the federal moratorium on evictions expires, now at the end of July.
Here are some of the organizations working in New Bedford to connect those in need with the rental relief programs and legal services.
PACE (People Acting In Community Endeavors), 166 William St., connects residents with rental relief programs and legal services. The organization’s Housing Opportunities Center, located at 308 Cottage St. Call 508-993-0033 (ext. 102), offers a list of available rental units in the city that are both subsidized and unsubsidized. PACE has helped to distribute more than $1 million in rental assistance over the last four months, according to Assistant Executive Director Joshua Amaral. Other programs and services include: mediation when negotiating with a landlord concerning eviction due to back rent or negotiating payment plans; tenant education workshops to provide tools to become self-sufficient; and help for those with barriers to securing permanent, affordable housing.
South Coastal Counties Legal Services Inc. provides free, civil legal aid to low-income residents, organization leaders say. It also provides services to some landlords. The free legal services are available to all who fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Tenants seeking eviction help can call lawyers directly at 800-244-9023. Landlords in owner-occupied two- or three-family homes can call the Volunteer Lawyers Project at 617-603-1700. Using state funds, SCCLS extended efforts to provide free legal services, especially for those with evictions or overdue mortgage payments related to the pandemic, through the end of 2021, according to Executive Director Susan Nagl.
The main form of assistance programs available are Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) and Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), organization leaders say. Eligible homeowners and tenants can get up to $10,000 to pay overdue or future mortgage or rent payments under RAFT and ERMA. Eligible tenants can get up to 15 months of rental assistance under the federal ERAP program. Tenants can use up to 12 months for overdue rent and use three months of assistance at a time for future rent payments.
Catholic Social Services, with offices in both New Bedford and Fall River, connects people to rental assistance programs and legal services. Reach the New Bedford office, 238 Bonney St., at 508-674-4681.
Father Bill’s & MainSpring, with offices in Brockton, provides similar services. Call 508-586-2348.
Members of the Coalition for Social Justice are knocking on the doors of those facing eviction to inform them of the services available. Reach the organization’s New Bedford office, 105 William St., Suite 26, at 508-999-2777.
Many of the groups came together to create a website to streamline information on the available programs and legal services.
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