Advocates: No evictions during pandemic
Coronavirus concerns at Boston Housing Court
YOU FEEL SICK. But you could get evicted from your home if you don’t show up in court. What do you do?
Boston-area activists are mounting a campaign to end evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
City Life/Vida Urbana, representing tenants facing eviction, planned to hold a rally Thursday morning outside Boston Housing Court to call for the postponement of almost all eviction cases.
Organizers say crowds of people are often squeezed into small spaces without adequate ventilation in the housing court. A tenant who is sick can’t stay home without risk of defaulting and being evicted. People have less access to public informational meetings or to assistance organizations, which may be curtailing operations.
Helen Matthews, an organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, said people facing eviction are generally the same people without substantial work benefits that let them take time off to heal. “We’re saying we don’t want a critical mass of people crammed into that space where the virus can spread, and we also don’t want people with the least resources in the city to be most affected by the virus,” Matthews said.
Legal advocacy group Lawyers for Civil Rights is calling for a statewide moratorium on evictions. Executive director Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal said in a statement that many low-income individuals cannot take time off work without jeopardizing their income and their housing. He said weekly eviction proceedings are exactly the type of crowded environment state officials are trying to discourage. “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,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.
Rep. Mike Connolly, a progressive Democrat from Cambridge, wrote on Twitter that he is preparing a bill to halt all evictions for the duration of the public health crisis.
Doug Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, said he does not believe civil processes should be closed to everyone without cause. But he agrees if someone tests positive for coronavirus, a tenant should be exempt from evictions – just as a landlord should be exempt from paying a mortgage.
Massachusetts state courts are taking steps to prevent the spread of disease: using stronger-than-usual disinfectants daily on high-touch areas; keeping soap and hand sanitizer around courthouses; and requiring employees who traveled to highly affected countries to stay home. The court is encouraging judges to reduce the number of jurors called in unnecessarily and is allowing jurors who are sick or worried about remaining on a jury to reschedule their jury service. The court is working with sheriff’s offices and law enforcement to establish a protocol for dealing with anyone who is in custody and has respiratory illness.In California, San Jose city officials are already moving forward with a temporary ban on evictions of tenants who lose income due to the pandemic. The 30-day moratorium is expected to receive approval from the San Jose City Council in the next couple of weeks. Landlords in San Jose opposed the policy, telling city officials that they did not know how they would pay their mortgages if tenants weren’t paying rent.
“We know it’s a public health and public safety issue if thousands of residents are being pushed out onto the street,” San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said at a press conference.