Housing assistance funds trickling out

Tenant advocates demanding meeting with administration say slow pace could increase evictions

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION has paid out less than 20 percent of the money set aside for emergency housing assistance, prompting advocates for tenants to claim that the program is not being administered properly and spawning an eviction crisis.

“The systemic failures of the RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) program to provide adequate notice and timely adjudication exacerbate the eviction crisis,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, who heads the organization Lawyers for Civil Rights and crafted a letter calling on the governor and his administration to fix issues with the program.

The letter says some RAFT applicants have not received any status updates on their applications for months and have received little or no communication from the agencies overseeing the program, both on their original applications and amendments they filed after the grant limit was increased.

Baker administration officials didn’t say why only $17.5 million of the $100 million in available funds has been released.

When the eviction moratorium lapsed in October, Gov. Charlie Baker cited the RAFT program and additional housing funds as a way to bolster tenants and landlords struggling during the pandemic. Baker added $18 million to the fund in July.

With little funding released, however, advocates say tenants who were counting on the money are at risk. The advocates say many landlords are increasingly turning to the eviction process after months of waiting on state action. Tenants in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and financial distress are facing this issue sooner than others, advocates say.

The angst is growing as a federal eviction moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire at the end of December.

Lawyers for Civil Rights is requesting an emergency meeting with state officials to discuss solutions, but officials say they are also considering litigation against the Commonwealth on behalf of low-income people of color.

Attorneys are asking for the state to issue notice to all existing RAFT applicants by December 31 informing them of the status of their application. They’re also calling for all future RAFT applications to be processed within 10 days.

Tery, a RAFT applicant who asked that she not be identified, applied for assistance in September. Her original $4,000 request was approved recently, but not the additional $5,000 she sought when she amended her request after the governor raised the ceiling on grants to $10,000.

The 31-year-old Latina lost her job in childcare at the beginning of the pandemic, and can no longer work at a medical equipment manufacturing facility due to the fumes and her pregnancy. She moved into a $2,000-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in September with her 7-year-old son, and is four months pregnant. She said the $4,000, which will cover her first and last month’s rent bill to her landlord, is not enough.

“It’s only enough to cover two months,” she said. “I’m not sure what will happen for the other four months. I’m just trying to keep a roof over our heads.”

Tery has a good relationship with her landlord who is letting her pay what she can. But Tery doesn’t think her landlord will be understanding much longer. ” A lot of people are applying for RAFT but the money isn’t getting to families who really need it,” she said.

Stefanie Coxe, executive director of the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, said there has been a backlog of hundreds of applications daily since the eviction moratorium was lifted on October 17.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Coupled with the time frame it takes to process applications under the program, this has created backlogs. We need to get as much money in the hands of as many people who need it as quickly as possible,” she said.

She said her organization is working with the Department of Housing and Community Development to make recommendations to “reduce active processing time so the program can scale.” Coxe said RAFT funding has already preserved over 8,000 housing situations since the beginning of the pandemic.