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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
With the Commonwealth’s pause on evictions and foreclosures due to expire on Oct. 17, the Baker-Polito administration has announced a comprehensive set of resources, known as the Eviction Diversion Initiative, to support tenants and landlords during the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a press event on Oct. 12, the administration said the goal of the initiative is to keep tenants in their homes and to support the ongoing expenses of landlords.
The administration is committing $171 million during the current fiscal year, with $112 million in new funding to support new and expanded housing stability programs during the remainder of the year.
The $171 million includes:
• $100 million to expand the capacity of the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program to provide relief to renters and landlords impacted by COVID-19
• $48.7 million to HomeBASE and other rapid rehousing programs for when tenants are evicted and are at risk of homelessness
• $12.3 million to provide tenants and landlords with access to legal representation and related services prior to and during the eviction process, as well as community mediation to help tenants and landlords resolve cases outside of court
• $6.5 million for Housing Consumer Education Centers, the “front door” for those facing a housing emergency
• $3.8 million for the Tenancy Preservation Program, to provide case management support and to act as a neutral party to help tenants and landlords come to agreement.
In order to ensure that tenants are aware of available resources, the administration has kicked off a public information campaign, including a new option available to call the Massachusetts 2-1-1 information hotline. Operators for 2-1-1 are trained to answer questions and connect residents to the agencies that administer RAFT and the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program. Information is available online at www.mass.gov/CovidHousingHelp.
The administration said the eviction diversion strategy was developed by a cross-agency team assembled in coordination with the Massachusetts Trial Court to manage the end of the moratorium and reflects input from a broad range of stakeholders.
Gov. Charlie Baker said the strategy “has been designed to be user-friendly and easily accessible for tenants and landlords in need,” and is composed of new or expanded programs to help people stay in their homes.
He said the program “would not be possible without the Legislature’s foresight in granting flexibility for the RAFT authorization.”
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey said the court “has modified its procedures to provide for a two-tier process that will enable tenants and landlords to access resources and mediate their disputes in order to preserve tenancies.”
“The Trial Court has worked to increase its technological capacity to handle these cases safely when parties come into court and to provide those without assistance with information and access to technology where needed,” Carey said.
New investments will expand the capacity of the RAFT program and increase the maximum benefit available through RAFT from $4,000 to $10,000 per household, with a goal of helping more families stabilize their housing for six months, or until the end of June if there are school-age children in the household.
New funding will also expand capacity at the nine regional Housing Consumer Education Centers to provide housing counseling and coordinate with community mediators, legal services and caseworkers. Income-eligible tenants and landlords will also be able to access legal representation and related services as they navigate the eviction process.
The administration said the RAFT program is being updated to improve the turnaround time on applications.
In coordination with the Trial Court, the administration is working to launch a new Community Mediation program that will be available prior to a court filing, and supplement court-provided mediation that is generally available after a filing has been made. The administration will also provide funding to the Trial Courts to support bringing back judges to help handle caseload once the moratorium ends and to add additional housing specialists to help mediate agreements.
The existing Tenancy Preservation Program will be expanded to serve a broader population of vulnerable households.
Massachusetts will also provide additional funding for post-eviction diversion, helping households to find new housing quickly and prevent a longer period of homelessness. HomeBASE, the Commonwealth’s rapid rehousing benefit, and the Strategic Prevention Initiative will be expanded and continue to offer financial assistance and stabilization case management services to families as they are in the process of securing stable housing. A new temporary emergency program will also provide funds to households for periods of up to 12 months to assist with moving expenses, rent, including first or last month’s, or security deposit, while transitioning into a stable housing situation.
When the state moratorium expires, a moratorium established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will become effective in Massachusetts. Through December, the CDC moratorium will prevent evictions for non-payment for qualified tenants who submit a written declaration to their landlord. Courts will accept filings and process cases, and may enter judgments, but will not issue an order of execution (the court order that allows a landlord to evict a tenant) until after the CDC order expires. Protection is limited to households who meet certain income and vulnerability criteria.