Evictions happening less today than pre-COVID
The tsunami many predicted has not materialized
WHEN STATE and federal COVID-related moratoriums on evictions ended, advocates worried that there would be a tsunami of people losing their homes.
But, state officials said Friday, an increase in rental assistance combined with programs geared at mediation have actually resulted in far fewer evictions than pre-pandemic.
“Filings are substantially down over what historic numbers would be,” said Housing Court Chief Justice Timothy Sullivan.
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey called the collaboration between the Legislature, judicial branch, and executive branch “a true example of good government.”
In their place, state officials crafted their own eviction diversion initiative – a $171 million Baker administration initiative, which was boosted by $768 million in federal money for emergency rental assistance. The Legislature also passed a law requiring a judge to delay any eviction case where the tenant has a pending application for rental assistance.
In a briefing with reporters on Friday, officials from the Trial Court and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development touted the success of the eviction diversion initiative. Since March 2020, they said, the state has distributed nearly $270 million in housing assistance to nearly 40,200 unique households.
According to Trial Court statistics, there is actually less action on evictions today than two years ago. Looking at data from July 2018 through August 2021, the court found that pre-pandemic, there were an average of 1,455 executions, or actual evictions, per month. Since the eviction moratorium expired in October, there have been an average of 287 evictions each month. The number of default judgements – where an eviction is approved because a tenant does not show up in court – has dropped to an average of 279 per month compared to 869 pre-pandemic.
Monthly summary process filings – a first step in the eviction process – reached a high of more than 3,700 in December 2020, one of the highest numbers in recent years. But the numbers are now down by about 41 percent.
Part of the drop in evictions is likely due to a massive influx in money dedicated to helping people stay in their homes. Before the pandemic, the state ran a homeless prevention program called Rental Assistance for Families in Transition. RAFT had a $20 million budget and gave low-income families up to $4,000 a year to help pay their rent.
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said that program has now been transformed into a “large-scale disaster relief program.” The Legislature approved and Gov. Charlie Baker allocated $100 million to RAFT in fiscal 2021. The Legislature in January increased the maximum benefit to $10,000 per family.
In addition, lawmakers allocated $12.3 million to give tenants and landlords representation and mediation services, $50 million for post-eviction rapid rehousing, and $8.7 million for case management and public awareness. Massachusetts also got $768 million for emergency rental relief from the federal government, and another $50 million directed to the city of Boston.
Early in the program, news stories documented the long time it took the state to approve rental assistance applications, as the 11 regional agencies that administered the program were overwhelmed.Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development Jennifer Maddox said the state has made changes to improve the process. State officials created a centralized center, run by a private vendor, which now processes nearly half of rental assistance applications. The process has morphed from having 11 different paper applications and a long list of required documents to a more uniform, streamlined process with a standard application, just four required documents, and an online application, which is available in eight languages. Tenants who already receive MassHealth or welfare are presumed eligible for rental assistance and do not have to prove their eligibility. The average application processing time is now six weeks.
The Housing Court has also revamped its processes to help tenants and landlords reach an agreement. Previously, if a landlord filed eviction documents with the court, the first step would be a trial. Now, the first step is usually a meeting with a housing specialist or mediator where the parties are informed of the resources that are available to help them and encouraged to reach an agreement.