Cambridge's City Council unanimously passed a measure to not evict any tenants who lost their income for the next two months. WGBH News' Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui to learn more about what this measure means for residents and other steps the city is taking to alleviate the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Mathieu: How concerned are you about people losing their homes in this pandemic?
Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui: I'm concerned about people losing their homes [and] their livelihoods. It's a very challenging time. I think our goal as a city — myself and Louis A. DePasquale, the city manager — our team is really working around the clock to keep folks' well-being and safety in mind. And so we've been trying to do that in a variety of ways, and it's a day to day approach.
Mathieu: This measure that you passed on the council encourages landlords to refrain from evicting. There's no mandate, though, correct?
Siddiqui: No. It's sad because there's issues with Chapter 30p in landlord tenant law and what locally what you can actually require to do, but I think we know that the courts are closed at least through April — housing court and so forth — and we already have Cambridge Housing Authority who has said we will not be evicting folks for nonpayment of rent, and they're really trying to work with our families. So we're really wanting to connect with all the management companies and all the landlords, and we have a great team here who has been trying to do that, keep in touch with families and say that if someone is filing an eviction against you, just that filing shouldn't be happening. So there's a lot of communication going on behind the scenes to work with our providers. So far many of our affordable housing providers in particular have been great. I think it's getting to the commercial and private landlords is the challenging part. But these are trying times and I think people are really recognizing that people are in desperate need and have lost their jobs and can't pay rent.
Mahieu: It sounds like you're working with people on a case by case basis. Mayor, you launched the Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund to collect donations for people in need. I'd like to ask you about the economic inequalities that are being exaggerated by this pandemic. The more money you make, the more likely it is you're working from home, like I am right now. The less you make, the more likely it is you'll have to put yourself at risk by going to a job, if you haven't already lost it. How does that play out in Cambridge in the weeks ahead?
Siddiqui: Yeah, it's playing out every day. I think our most vulnerable are low wage workers who are going to suffer the most. So this fund that we created will be helping towards things like rental assistance, will be helping with household needs, whether a family needs diapers or to buy food. So we anticipate that while this fund we've raised at this point over $3 million, it will go fast because there is a lot of need and that is going to be exacerbated as the months continue and everything is mostly closed until May 4.
My mom, for example, is a cashier at a grocery store. She's 69 and I've told her you can't go to work. But if she doesn't, she's not making money. That's a choice that we have to make. Luckily, I'm here and I can help my parents. But if I couldn't, and there's a lot of people who can't, these workers are going in, feel unsafe and are subjecting themselves to an environment that I don't think is safe. So I think that plays into it. I know that there are workers every day who can't afford not to go to work, so there's those ramifications, too. There's a lot of need that's going around, and so we as a city have to step up and help our community.
Mathieu: Is your mom going to work, Mayor, or is she taking your advice?
Siddiqui: She's on sick leave. Just taking the time that she has, but that's running out. And so we'll cross that bridge next week. Her manager said you can come in for two days, if you want. Come in for a day [or] come in and do these hours. They're trying to work with her, but I've said I don't feel comfortable with that unless there's some drastic measures and she's in a bubble. But as we know, there's a lot of people going to the grocery store. So that's just a more personal anecdote, but when you have elderly parents, and many folks do, it's thinking about those things. So those are the concerns that come up and as we look at families who are calling us and [are] concerned about the April rent and concern about the fact that they can't also go to work as their businesses have closed, it's [these] compounding factors. Every day we are trying to get the information out to families and the resources of the families. It's a long road ahead, but Cambridge [is] working around the clock to do whatever we can to help.
Mathieu: I'd like to ask you about another effort to help people out and level the playing field here when we consider inequalities to get broadband Internet access to residents who don't have it. If you're stuck at home right now, that's a lifeline.
Siddiqui: Yes. And we've been able to work through our schools and get hotspots to our residents and our students. But that's still leaving out so many people who don't have access. So that is a challenge.
Mathieu: Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, I'm glad you could join us this morning. I wish you luck with everything. If you want to find information about the Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund, where should people go?
Siddiqui: They can go to our website: cambridgema.gov/covid19.