Demand for housing assistance accelerating rapidly
It is clear that pandemic-related struggles made it harder for many people to pay rent, even as eviction moratoriums helped them stay in their homes.
A report released this week by Metro Housing Boston puts a staggering figure on just how much help greater Boston residents have needed. In one year, beginning in July 2020, the agency distributed $63.2 million in housing assistance funds to 10,200 low-income households in the Boston area.
In comparison, the previous year, the agency distributed $5.1 million to 1,800 households, and in the year before that, it gave $4.4 million to 1,700 households.
A big reason for the increase is the state changed its laws so households can get more money. The average household benefit was $6,100 in fiscal 2021, compared to less than $3,000 the prior two years. The state also allowed more people to benefit, including those with slightly higher incomes. And there is simply far more money available to distribute since the state and federal governments both put huge sums into staving off evictions and foreclosures. Between March 1, 2020 and October 1, 2021, state officials distributed approximately $270 million to over 40,000 households statewide through its eviction diversion initiative.
The report says that the pandemic is to blame: “The ripple effect of community lockdowns, business closures and the resulting layoffs and terminations, remote learning and the need for parents to quit work to stay home with school-age children, and the financial impact of losing income temporarily due to illness or permanently due to death financially crippled many households.”
Steven Farrell, chief operating officer of Metro Housing Boston, said the need is not letting up. Between July 1 and November 30, 2021, the months after the period covered by the report, the organization distributed another $74 million to 9,280 households.
“We’re setting new records every single week,” Farrell said. “When more funds become available, we get more applications.”
Farrell said those receiving help in many cases are people who previously were middle income with stable jobs, then suddenly lost a job or found themselves floundering amid COVID. In previous years, Farrell said, the rental assistance program was about homelessness prevention for low-income households. Now, it’s become a “disaster relief fund.”
There is a state law that prohibits a judge from ordering someone evicted if they have a pending application for rental relief, and Farrell said that too has likely increased applications – which is “exactly what the program was designed to do.”
By far the biggest chunk of money last year went to rental payments. The eviction moratorium allowed people who owed money on rent to stay in their homes, but the money they owed still had to be paid, and the agency paid out $43.5 million to help people in arrears on rent. A much lower percentage than in the past went to security deposits, moving costs, and first and last months’ rent – signs that low-income people were moving less frequently.
Farrell suggested that with all the uncertainty about COVID, families were seeking any avenue they had to remain stable.
Political muscle: US Rep. Richard Neal, in a talk to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, makes clear he will use his political muscle to win funding for east-west rail and some other transportation projects around the state. Three members of the state’s congressional delegation serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Neal says all three have indicated their priority is his priority. Read more.
Rollins moves forward: Democrats in the US Senate move forward Rachael Rollins for US Attorney in Massachusetts, pulling her nomination out of the Judiciary Committee where it had been stuck since September. The vote was 50-47. Read more.
The Baker playbook: Lizzy Guyton, Gov. Charlie Baker’s former communications director, highlights what she likes about her former boss’s political playbook, which is focused on the work at hand and finding common ground. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The House passed the $4 billion ARPA spending bill with no floor debate and only a handful of members present. (Boston Globe)
Eileen McNamara of Brandeis University is not impressed with Gov. Charlie Baker’s high approval ratings, saying they are more a reflection of his opposition to Donald Trump and the state’s infatuation with Republican governors and less to do with his management skills. (WBUR)
Gov. Charlie Baker signs a bill requiring middle and high schools to incorporate the history of genocide into their curriculum. (State House News Service)
House Speaker Ron Mariano and 35 other state lawmakers sign a pledge denouncing conversion therapy, which tries to change a person’s sexual orientation. (MassLive)
A three-bedroom condo in the Savin Hill section of Dorchester goes for a record $1.42 million, the highest price ever paid for a condo in Dorchester. The unit sold to an empty-nester moving into Boston from Winchester. (Dorchester Reporter)
Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who has carved out a green profile in his decade-plus in office, will become the first chief sustainability officer at steam energy generator Vicinity Energy when he leaves office next month. (Boston Globe)
Massachusetts reports 5,178 new COVID cases on Thursday, the highest single-day total since January. Schools report 8,513 cases among students and 1,396 among staff in a two-week period that includes Thanksgiving. (MassLive) There are nearly 1,000 people now hospitalized in the state with COVID, with UMass Memorial Health’s CEO saying the system ran out of ICU beds yesterday. (Boston Globe)
Former US attorney Andrew Lelling is said to be “tempted” to jump in the Republican race for governor. (Boston Herald) Democratic New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell won’t say if he’s eyeing a run for governor. (Standard-Times)
A push by the state Republican Party to require voter identification at the polls dies when proponents fail to get enough signatures to get on the 2022 ballot. (Salem News)
A Cape Ann cannabis shop sues Gloucester, alleging it was charged $500,000 in illegal host community agreement fees. (WBUR)
A report presented to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission raises alarms about gambling by Asians at the state’s casinos and says the casinos target the community. (GBH)
UMass Amherst and Hampshire College initiate a booster shot mandate. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Boston may create a wait-list for its three selective-admission exam schools amid declining enrollment at the schools. (Boston Globe)
The Worcester DA takes a DNA sample from the son of a person of interest in the kidnapping and killing of teenager Molly Bish 21 years ago. (MassLive)PASSINGS
Eddie Mekka, an actor and Worcester native best known for his role as the “Big Ragoo” on the sitcom Laverne and Shirley, dies at 69. (Telegram & Gazette)