The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Wednesday announced a suspension of actions that would result in residents of some federally-supported dwellings losing their homes because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
HUD placed an immediate moratorium on foreclosures on single-family homes with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration. The Federal Housing Finance Agency ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored agencies that buy private mortgages, to temporarily cease foreclosures and evictions. Evictions of public housing residents would also be stopped. All those actions apply for two months.
“The health and safety of the American people is of the utmost importance to the department, and the halting of all foreclosure actions and evictions for the next 60 days will provide homeowners with some peace of mind during these trying times,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement.
HUD’s announcement follows calls from state and local officials and nonprofit activists in Massachusetts to delay evictions during job losses caused by the pandemic.
In Boston, City Life/Vida Urbana — an activist group based in Jamaica Plain — a week ago protested outside the Edward Brooke Courthouse with a call to shut down evictions during the public health emergency.
A day later, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston Housing Authority asked housing courts to “reconsider non-essential evictions” after the protest. BHA also said it would immediately suspend its pursuit of all housing court cases and non-essential evictions.
On Beacon Hill, legislation has been filed to impose a temporary halt to evictions and foreclosures.
“To see anything done on the national level is very good because this is a national crisis.” said Steven Meacham, organizing coordinator at City Life/Vida Urbana, said of the HUD decisions.
Similar efforts to limit displacement have sprung up in other parts of the state, like Lawrence, where the city council moved this week to impose a blanket two month moratorium on rent and mortgage payments for the city’s residents who who lose work due to school or business closures.
Meacham called many policies emerging from the administration “extremely hostile to the people that we represent, who are mostly working-class people of color.” HUD’s announcements, he continued, “elicits from me a ‘thank you.”
Eloise Lawrence, deputy director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, characterized the policies as a welcome departure from housing business as usual under the Trump administration.
“It’s obviously extremely stressful in any time to face the loss of your home and especially in a time when we are in this public health crisis. That could mean life and death for people,” Lawrence said in a phone interview with WGBH News. “The fact that the government is standing in and recognizing that reality is really important and shows a humanity that we haven’t seen in the past from both HUD and FHFA.”
Lawrence added that even though 28 million borrowers have mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, “there are millions of people that wouldn’t be covered” by the relief.
Mac McCreight, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services also raised the issue of relief for multi-family housing.
“We have lots of HUD multi-family housing in this area,” he said Wednesday night. HUD lists of 1,170 multifamily properties in Massachusetts.
McCreight noted that both renters who live in those units and homeowners who depend on that income could potential face financial shortfalls.