OCTOBER 17, 2020
Back in March, when I was leading efforts to call on Governor Baker to shutdown nonessential businesses and issue a Stay At Home order, my highest hope was that state and federal leaders would quickly respond to the novel coronavirus in a science-based, intersectional, empathetic, and equitable fashion — and that we would have the virus under control and be back to something more closely resembling normal by now.
While many positive steps were taken — from our strongest-in-the-nation eviction and foreclosure moratorium that we passed into law in April (a lot more about that below...), to the federal CARES Act that helped keep the economy going — today, I can't help but conclude that things remain very uncertain and deeply concerning.
Because of the unhinged, criminal Occupant of the White House and his enablers in the Republican-led United States Senate, our federal government has too often been aiding and abetting the virus rather than taking the obvious steps to stop the spread and save lives.
Meanwhile, Governor Baker has himself too often ignored the warnings of public health experts in his determination to reopen the economy, and he's consistently brushed aside the voices of marginalized communities and people most impacted by the pandemic along the way.
And because of all this — these past few weeks I've once again found myself sounding the alarm on an upward trend in COVID-19 cases in our Commonwealth and fighting for basic protections for our most vulnerable residents.
THE EVICTION AND FORECLOSURE MORATORIUM ENDS TODAY
At midnight, our strongest-in-the-nation eviction and foreclosure moratorium law expires. It's an outcome I've been working tirelessly to avoid — however, legislative leaders have so far been unwilling to take final action on the COVID-19 Housing Stability Act, a comprehensive bill that I worked to draft with Sen. Jehlen, Rep. Honan, and the Homes for All coalition, which includes several Black-led and People of Color-led housing justice groups from around the state.
Instead of passing our equity-based proposal to extend protections for vulnerable renters and homeowners and offer relief to all, including small landlords, legislative leaders have effectively ceded our policymaking role to Governor Baker, who convened an invitation-only group behind closed doors to draft something they are calling the "Eviction Diversion Initiative."
While everyone agrees Baker's plan includes certain positive steps — ultimately, it seems likely to be yet another example of the sort of inadequate policy that often results when people most impacted aren't given a meaningful voice in the process.
The Baker Administration says their plan will allocate direct financial support for "up to 18,000 households." However, a recent analysis by Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) says an estimated "60,000 renter households fear imminent eviction." This week the Boston Globe reported the Chief Justice of the Trial Court thinks there could be as many as 200,000 evictions. And last week the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center cited a National Low Income Housing Coalition estimate that says up to 300,000 households in our state are at risk of eviction.
Also this week, the Boston Herald reported that Gov. Baker is "firing up the eviction machine" by hiring 15 retired judges, "to address the critical backlog of eviction cases throughout the Commonwealth...until the Trial Court is up to date on eviction cases."
Other key elements of Governor Baker’s plan — such as new legal representation and community mediation programs — are still "several weeks" away from being fully operational. But the Notices To Quit and continued eviction cases will resume in the next 24 hours. This week I spoke with Boston Magazine, WGBH's Boston Public Radio, and WBUR's Radio Boston regarding the problems with Baker's approach.
The Governor’s plan also relies on a CDC order that offers a very thin layer of protection to a subset of at-risk tenants through December 31. But Donald Trump's DOJ is actively working to undermine this order. Under the Trump/CDC order, "Landlords are still free to take tenants to court and secure eviction judgements," and there’s no obligation for landlords to mention the order when sending a Notice To Quit. This week, it was reported that the order is creating "mass confusion."
That's why Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Attorney General Maura Healey, Mayor Joe Curtatone, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the Editorial Board of the Boston Globe, and countless other state and local officials, and hundreds of community, faith-based, and labor groups are all advocating for an extension of the moratorium. Despite all of this, legislative leaders have walked away, and the Governor says lifting the moratorium now will help tenants avoid the risk of accumulating debt. But leading public health experts tell us that evictions will lead to further spread of COVID-19, and in turn, this will unnecessarily lead to more deaths, particularly for working class folks, undocumented immigrants, and People of Color.
On Thursday, I attended an informal session of the House of Representatives in an attempt to pass an emergency petition to extend the moratorium. While I was able to make some progress with the petition, ultimately, I wasn't able to proceed without a quorum of the legislature present, so I "doubted the presence of a quorum," which effectively shut down the informal session in protest. There's more about my last-ditch effort to extend the moratorium here via WGBH News, here in the Somerville Journal, and here in the Cambridge Chronicle.
Despite the frustrating and foreboding nature of where things stand this afternoon, I'm proud of the efforts we've made to advance the Housing Stability Act (which did clear the legislature's Joint Committee on Housing on a 14-2 vote late last month) and to fight for the principle of housing stability, especially during this time of COVID-19. It's amazing to think that I started working on the Housing Stability Act all the way back in March (even before we got the current moratorium passed into law), and along the way we've continued to build a real, statewide housing justice movement by centering and amplifying the voices of people most impacted. We will continue fighting to guarantee Housing For All.
Anyone reading this who is at risk of displacement is welcome to contact my office and we will work to connect you to the best resources we can. Remember: a Notice to Quit is not an eviction, and there are variety of programs and services on the state and local levels that can offer help. In addition:
- The City of Cambridge has a local moratorium that blocks constables or sheriffs from forcibly removing a tenant "for any reason." You can download a complete analysis of policies in Cambridge via this link.
- The City of Somerville also has a local moratorium; more information is available via their Office of Housing Stability.
- Folks in the Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston area can reach out to Metro Housing Boston to apply for rental assistance programs.
- WBUR recently posted this helpful primer on how the eviction process works in Massachusetts and where to turn for additional resources.
COVID-19 CASES ON THE RISE IN MASSACHUSETTS
Last month, I started sounding the alarm that Massachusetts had the second-highest COVID-19 reproduction rate in the nation. Over the past two weeks, our Covid reproduction rate (an approximate measure of how fast the virus is spreading) has started to moderate somewhat. However, as of today, it still remains elevated, meaning the virus now appears to be spreading too quickly.
Another data-related mater that had me sounding the alarm is the fact that, since August, the state has been featuring a metric that is actually a "substantial underestimate" of this concerning upward trend in cases. See this recent Boston Globe article for an explanation of how the state's new method for reporting the 7-day average of positive test results is actually helping to hide these concerning trends.
In response to these concerns, I recently joined with public health and social justice leaders to call on Gov. Baker to follow the science and to work more closely with communities most impacted by COVID-19. I've also been calling on the Governor to heed the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts who have been warning him not to continue loosening restrictions on indoor activities. According to several epidemiologists, the state "should press pause on plans to further loosen restrictions" — and yet, the Governor has been doing just the opposite.
Moreover, I've been calling out the Governor for ignoring a law we in the legislature passed earlier this year to require more detailed virus reporting at nursing homes. More on all of this is available via this State House News Service report.
This week, the City of Somerville unfortunately went "in the red" — meaning the number of new cases over the past 14 days has exceeded 8 per 100,000 residents. When the state began issuing reports on individual communities back in mid-August, just 4 municipalities were "in the red." Now, there are 63 municipalities in this high-risk category, and the Commonwealth as a whole is also considered to be "high risk" according to the state's definitions.
FIGHTING FOR NEW, PROGRESSIVE REVENUE IN THE FY21 STATE BUDGET
To be sure, if we are going to have strong housing stability programs and if we are going to be able to push for broader limits on indoor activities and larger social gatherings, then we are going to need new, progressive revenue to fund strong government programs. That's why I've been calling on my colleagues in the legislature to raise new, progressive revenue to help fund the programs that will make it possible for everyone to persevere through this difficult time.
Earlier this year, I succeeded in getting my legislation for a progressive/tiered corporate minimum tax included in the House Transportation Revenue bill (which is still pending action before the state Senate). And right now, as we look to complete the FY21 state budget, I am working closely with the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition and the Massachusetts Teachers Association to plan to fight for more progressive revenue. More about Raise Up's efforts, which include my proposal to raise the tax rate on certain "unearned income" that largely goes to the top 1% of households in our state, is available via this page.
GREEN LINE EXTENSION PROJECT IS 50% COMPLETE
I'm pleased to report the Green Line Extension project is now 50% complete. My staff and I remain very involved in doing all that we can to advocate for project abutters who have been enduring all of the noise, disruption, and rats that come with a project of this kind. We have also been active in advocating to MassDOT for consideration of additional and future project elements, such accommodations for an additional elevator in Union Square and additional bike/pedestrian access points to the community path in the future.
It's amazing to think that when I was elected to the House four years ago, Governor Baker had just put the Green Line Extension project on hold, and plans for the extension of the Somerville Communtiy Path were cut out of the project altogether.
Working in partnership with state and city colleagues, the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, Friends of the Community Path, and other advocates, we fought to get the Green Line Extension back on track and to put the bike and pedestrian path back in the project — and now, it’s amazing to see the project reach this major milestone and to also see the community path structure rising up along the Cambridge-Somerville city line. Check out this recent Boston Globe story on the progress we've made with the Community Path Extension.
WEEKLY UPDATES VIA SOMERVILLE MEDIA CENTER
I joined with Somerville State Rep. Denise Provost for a televised update on our work at the Somerville Media Center late last month.
LOTS TO DO THIS FALL
In July the legislature voted to extend remote formal sessions through the end of the year, and we still have a long list of things to do, including the FY21 state budget.
Right now we are pushing for conference committees to complete work on several critical items, including: 1) Final version of police reform legislation; 2) final version of environmental justice and renewable energy legislation; 3) final version of the Transportation capital investment legislation; 4) final version of an Economic Development legislation. These are all items where both the House and Senate have passed their own bills, and now a conference committee must agree to final, a reconciled bill which is then subject to an up or down vote in each branch before being sent to the Governor.
In addition, there are several bills we have yet to get to the floor which remain top priorities of mine. As we witness Donald Trump and Senate Republicans illegitimately push for another seat on the United States Supreme Court, I have been calling on Speaker DeLeo to bring the ROE Act to the floor — this is legislation I've co-sponsored to guarantee unencumbered access to abortion for anyone who can get pregnant. Another big priority is the Workplace and Family Mobility Act, which would make it possible for undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. And of course, we will continue to fight for the COVID-19 Housing Stability Act, which would guarantee housing stability for the duration of the public health emergency and for one year afterward while providing relief to all, including homeowners and small landlords. And those are just three priorities — the list of other bills we need to get to — from no cost calls for people who are incarcerated to legislation to promote age-appropriate sex education to legislation that would help protect pollinators — is long and worthy.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Yours in service,
Rep. Mike Connolly