Urging Statewide Moratorium on Evictions in Light of COVID-19

Coronavirus, Health Disparities, Housing

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak of coronavirus, strongly encouraging all employees and students who feel sick to stay home. Baker’s message is an important one in response to this clear public health crisis.

But government responses to this unfolding health emergency must take into account the lived experiences of low-income people and communities of color.  In particular, many low-income renters in Massachusetts already face an imminent threat of displacement due to rising housing costs. The Commonwealth’s most vulnerable cannot afford to miss even one day of work without risking severe income and housing insecurity for themselves and their family. In addition, the weekly eviction proceedings that result in overcrowded courtrooms are precisely the type of environment that the Commonwealth is trying to deter to decrease the spread of disease.

Therefore, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) is calling on the Governor to issue a state-wide moratorium on evictions as a component of the state of emergency to ensure that the most vulnerable are not overlooked in the coronavirus response. It is unfair and counterproductive for the Governor to ask people to quarantine themselves in their homes while simultaneously allowing them to be stripped of their housing. 

The 2019 “Out of Reach” report created by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that Massachusetts is now the third most expensive rental market in the country and that the average renter would need to be paid $33.81 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment without being rent-burdened. The consequences of being unable to maintain these astronomical rents are being felt most directly by low-income communities of color. A recent MIT study reported that 1 in 10 market-rate apartments in Roxbury reports an eviction in the last three years. By contrast, in Beacon Hill, only 1 in 100 units reports an eviction in the last two years. This reality coupled with the new COVID-19 restrictions will undoubtedly exacerbate Boston’s growing housing crisis. 

Cities across the country, including San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, are all considering eviction bans to ensure that in the wake of the coronavirus their most vulnerable populations do not also have to confront  homelessness. Massachusetts must adopt similar measures.