Even after a historic surge in housing demand, Massachusetts still has hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to support pandemic-era housing stability following concerns over a spate of evictions, and the Baker administration is working. aggressive “to raise awareness that aid is still available, officials said Thursday.
As the US Centers for Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions expires in late June and Governor Charlie Baker prepares to lift the state of emergency on June 15, officials told lawmakers Thursday that they were launching “a major information campaign.” to reach Bay Staters who are worried about their life situation in the coming months.
Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Housing and Community Development Jennifer Maddox said the effort will include public advertisements on the MBTA and text alerts to hundreds of thousands of residents at risk.
“Right now, total dormitory eviction requests were 50% lower than in pre-pandemic times, so we’ll be monitoring this very closely, but in reality we have a lot of resources to address this,” Maddox told the Joint Housing Committee an information hearing. “That’s why we’re starting a major information campaign. We want to get the money out as quickly as possible.”
In October, Baker let a state moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expire and instead outlined a $ 171 million plan to encourage rental assistance and relocation efforts, provide legal assistance, and help landlords mediate problems with tenants.
The state later received $ 437 million in federal housing stability incentives under the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December.
Massachusetts has spent all of $ 100 million allocated under the original $ 171 million plan for the housing assistance program for families in transition, Maddox said Thursday, but the federal increases mean that much more Funds must flow to tenants, landlords and homeowners in need.
“We’re working aggressively to publicize that we have resources if you’re having trouble paying rent or if you’re a landlord in need of help,” Maddox said.
Maddox’s presentation to lawmakers showed that between January and April the state distributed $ 93.4 million in housing assistance through three programs: Housing Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), Emergency Rent and Mortgage Aid (ERMA), and Emergency Rent Program (ERAP). These expenses helped 24,901 unique households.
“More money was spent on RAFT in February than would normally be spent in a full fiscal year,” said Maddox. “In March we spent more on RAFT than in February.”
After Baker decided not to extend the moratorium, some activists feared the diversion program would not be enough to accommodate at-risk residents during a public health crisis, especially as COVID-19 transmission saw a second surge in winter.
Eviction suits against tenants who allegedly failed to pay their rent recovered quickly after the moratorium ended and returned to roughly pre-pandemic levels within five weeks.
Since a peak in the week of December 13, the number of new cases filed has decreased, according to Massachusetts Trial Court data. There were between 187 and 231 new filings each week in April and March, significantly fewer than the 500 to 700 weekly filings in January and February 2020 before COVID-19 hit.