The Boston Housing Authority has extended its non-essential eviction moratorium through the end of March, but some housing advocates say monthly extensions and legal loopholes doesn’t provide enough stability for the city’s 25,000 public housing residents.
"It’s to help all of our public housing residents who may be affected by the pandemic and who are unable to pay rent or get behind. just to make sure that they are safe from losing their homes," Gail Livingston, senior deputy administrator for the Boston Housing Authority.
The city has 10,000 public housing units, with about a third of them home to elderly and disabled residents, according to Livingston. She estimated that between 15 and 20% of its public housing residents are behind on rent.
The eviction moratorium is not a rent moratorium, Livingston said.
"People are still required to pay their rent," she said. "And throughout this time, we have continued to talk to work with folks to, first of all, make sure we know what their income is, because public housing residents pay rent based on their income.”
The news came as the existing moratorium was due to expire on Feb. 28. Extending it will help keep the coronavirus in check, Livingston said, because fewer people will have to double up with friends or relatives after an eviction, potentially increasing their chances for exposure to the coronavirus.
Helen Matthews, of the advocacy group City Life Vida Urbana, said the moratorium extension is helpful for residents in subsidized housing, but month-by-month extensions create a lot of uncertainty.
“It really needs to be much longer than one more month," she said. "People in subsidized housing and market-rate housing are really at risk of eviction now.”
The moratorium covers nonessential or non-emergency evictions, except those related to criminal activity or anyone who present a danger to the safety and health of others.
Andrea M. Park, a housing and homelessness attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said that language, which the legislature adopted last April, still leaves some people vulnerable to eviction.
“During the moratorium, we saw some landlords bring cases as 'essential' for fairly general things, like 'tenant's smoking is presenting a health risk to her neighbor,' which in our view was not an emergency justifying displacing a family into the pandemic," Park said.
According to Park, when evictions were filed after the moratorium initially expired in October, many tenants who were unable to secure federal assistance moved out of their homes for fear of intimidation. And while BHA tenants are still expected to pay rent, Park said for those who are unable to readjust their income or seek rental assistance during the moratorium, that could become grounds for eviction later.
“We are still in a crisis situation, from a public health perspective, on top of the housing crisis that existed before the pandemic," she said. "Both calamities have taken a disproportionate toll on people of color and low-income people, which we also see reflected in the vaccine rollout reaction.”