Remarks in support of extending the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium

On Thursday, November 5, 2020, the House considered H.5102, the supplemental "closeout" budget for Fiscal Year 2020. Rep. Connolly filed amendment #38 to reinstate the eviction and foreclosure moratorium. The amendment was co-sponsored by sixteen others. Below are Rep. Connolly's remarks in support of the amendment, as delivered to a full formal/remote emergency session of the House with Speaker pro Tempore Pat Haddad presiding.

Thank you, Madame Speaker, and through you to the Members.

I rise in support of Amendment #38, which would reinstate our recent Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium through at least January 1st, 2021.

As you know, Governor Baker allowed the eviction and foreclosure moratorium to expire on October 17. In its place, he offered a plan called the "Eviction Diversion Initiative." While this plan does contain several welcome pieces, according to the Governor’s own math, it falls far short in terms of necessary financial assistance — and perhaps even more concerning, key components of the Governor's plan will not be fully operational for several weeks, such as community mediation and plans for expanded legal representation programs.

Another key part of the Governor's plan, the Rental Assistance for Families in Transition program ("RAFT"), is not ready to deal with the coming wave of evictions. On a call with Secretary Sudders and DHCD Secretary Kenneally a couple of weeks ago, legislators were told that the Administration is “hoping to improve the processing time for RAFT by the end of November."

So let me just pause here for emphasis and to reiterate: We have allowed the eviction and foreclosure moratorium to expire, we're facing an ongoing housing emergency, and we are in the middle of an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across the state — and yet many of the key components of the Governor's plan are not yet operational or are already broken.

On October 25, the Boston Globe reported: "Tenants and landlords alike as well as the advocates and counselors who work with them describe RAFT as strained to the point of bursting, with applications backed up for months, and many languishing due to documentation problems, language barriers, and miscommunication."

These are just some of the reasons why the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the Editorial Board of the Boston Globe, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and hundreds of community-based, faith-based, labor, and other housing justice groups have been calling on us this fall to take action to extend the eviction moratorium. 

Of course, I want to recognize the efforts of the Speaker, the Ways and Means Chair, and the Housing Chair — first in passing the nation’s leading eviction and foreclosure moratorium back in April — and then in including additional elements to the FY21 House Ways and Means budget that was released today. We can all appreciate that the House is prepared to add even more funding to RAFT, to add funding to MRVP, and to add funding to legal assistance programs. In addition, the pending House budget includes language similar to what to what many advocates have been calling for to create something akin to a “Right to Cure” — and this is so important — as it stands, even if a tenant is perfectly qualified for the RAFT program, a landlord may choose not to participate in the program and instead move forward with an eviction. And as we know, DHCD can hardly keep up with the overwhelming demand for RAFT — and so delays in processing can lead to eviction through no fault of a tenant. So I am pleased that additional steps have been announced by the House today.

And yet, so much more has to be done. As I’ve communicated with other Members on this issue, a few points have made to suggest that it’s okay that the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium was allowed to expire last month.

Some say it’s okay to let the moratorium expire because the evictions cases that furthest along in the process are largely from the pre-COVID days — these pre-COVID cases are essentially “first in line.” I suppose the assumption is that if you were facing eviction in April, it’s okay if you end up on the street now. But I would suggest that for many of the 11,000 households that were reportedly facing eviction back in April — many of these households are in worse shape now after months this public health crisis and economic hardship.

It’s also been reported that Governor Baker has hired 15 additional judges to "get through the eviction backlog" — casting doubt on the idea that things won't start moving very quickly in the coming weeks.

It's also been suggested that some judges have indicated that they will approach this matter with sensitivity — and that's all well and good — but frankly, it is naive to think of that as an actual policy. For one thing, if a tenant facing eviction winds up before a housing court judge, and if they are fortunate enough to have an advocate by their side, then at least they have a fighting chance. But my gravest concern, and the gravest concern of housing justice advocates, has to do with all the tenants who are getting Notices to Quit right now and who never get the opportunity to access the resources that the Governor is still trying to put in place.

Without stronger protections, we know many of our most vulnerable residents may end up abandoning their dwellings and relinquishing their rights and in turn, ending up in situations that are more conducive to the further spread of COVID-19.

Another point that often gets overlooked in this discussion is that when eviction cases are filed against tenants, that creates a permeant record that can impact everyone in the household. I know the Second Assistant Majority Leader has been working on this issue with the HOMES Act that would address this concern (and certain elements of that proposal are now pending before the economic development conference committee).

Finally, the Governor, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, and others have pointed to the presence of the federal CDC eviction moratorium order — but this CDC order only offers the thinest layer of protection to a subset of at risk tenants — and while Governor Baker has been out there touting the CDC order as a key part of his Eviction Diversion Initiative, it's been reported that Donald Trump’s Department of Justice is actively working to undermine and narrow the applicability of that CDC order. So frankly, I find this hard to believe — that here in Massachusetts, our current Covid housing stability policy involves asking our most vulnerable residents to rely on Donald Trump’s Department of Justice.

At present, states such as Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey, Colorado, Montana, New York, Kansas, and California all have stronger COVID-19 eviction protection measures in place, according to the researchers at the Eviction Lab of Princeton University — and most of these states have their state-level protections in place through at least January 1, 2021 or until the end of their respective public health emergency declarations.

So Mr. Speaker, my hope is that by raising these concerns today, we are advancing a conversation that can continue in to the next week as we consider the provisions and the amendments to the FY21 House budget. I look forward to continuing to work with you and the Ways and Means Chair and all of our colleagues to further strengthen those elements that were announced today. I also want to say Thank You to the sixteen Members who co-sponsored this amendment #38, and with that I ask to withdraw this amendment as we look to build support for further action in the very near future. Thank you.