One in three renters at risk for eviction, advocates say

Cite Census data, which suggest racial disparities

A NEW EVICTIONS ANALYSIS using polling and research data from the US Census Bureau’s most recent housing survey indicates one in three Massachusetts renter households are at risk of eviction.

Housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, along with researchers from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, compiled the analysis.

About 300,000 renter households are at risk of eviction across the state, the organizations say. In the Boston area, half of black renters and 30 percent of Hispanic renters surveyed said they had little to no confidence they’d be able to pay the rent for August. Only 15 percent of white renters in the Boston area, on the other hand, reported low confidence in making August rent.

State-wide, the racial breakdown is largely the same.

The Census Bureau has been releasing the “Housing Pulse” data weekly throughout the coronavirus pandemic to gauge how COVID-19 is impacting renters and homeowners.

The data indicate renters are using credit cards, loans from friends and family, federal stimulus payments, and unemployment insurance to pay rent – all stop-gap solutions to make ends meet.

The households are protected from non-emergency evictions through October 17 under an eviction moratorium recently extended by Gov. Charlie Baker. The risk of eviction, researchers said, isn’t likely to diminish unless stronger protections for renters are signed into law in the coming weeks.

“State neglect is pushing tenants toward riskier, short-term, and unsustainable ways to pay rent – and you can’t pay rent with credit cards forever. Tenants need long-term solutions now to prevent October’s eviction wave,” said Benjamin Walker, an MIT researcher.

City Life/Vida Urbana is pushing for a housing bill proposed by Reps. Kevin Honan of Brighton and Mike Connolly of Cambridge that would extend the existing ban on evictions to a year after the state of emergency is over. The bill would also provide some financial relief for landlords while also barring rent hikes and preventing landlords from evicting tenants even for renovations.

“In the COVID-19 pandemic, no one should lose their home because they stayed at home. That’s why we all need the Legislature to prevent a massive eviction crisis soon – not only with partial financial assistance they scrape together but also by outlawing evictions due to COVID-related housing debt,” said Steve Meacham, coordinator of organizing at City Life/Vida Urbana.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, 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 bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, 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.

Landlords are opposed to efforts to extend the eviction moratorium, and are challenging the ban in state and federal court. Two landlords from Randolph and Worcester brought the cases, arguing that the policy is unconstitutional and that the state is allowing their tenants to basically take property without paying for it.

Richard Vetstein, who is representing the landlords, asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson last week for an injunction to open housing courts to evictions. He also dismissed previous data from City Life/Vida Urbana and MIT, calling an anticipated slew of evictions inaccurate, and adding that alleging race has nothing to do with COVID-19 related evictions.