Eviction bill bounces back and forth on Beacon Hill
It may be the first test of the Legislature’s penchant for consensus on coronavirus-related bills.
The Massachusetts House and Senate agree that there should be a pause on evictions and foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic. But what that should look like is raising thorny questions that have left the bill bouncing back and forth between the two chambers.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee released a version of the bill last Tuesday, to the consternation of advocates for tenants and struggling homeowners, who said the protections did not go far enough. The House then passed its version of the bill Thursday. The State House News Service reported that senators on Monday sent their bill back to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, presumably to be reconciled with the version that came over from the House.
Advocates for low-income individuals have been pressuring the Legislature to adopt something similar to the House version. A coalition of 200 unions and community organizing groups signed a letter asking Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Karen Spilka to adopt the House version, with some changes to make it stronger for tenants. (Although the group is asking for changes, advocates are acknowledging internally that the House version is the best bill they are likely to get.)
Joey Michalakes, a staff attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, said the notice to quit in itself is enough to scare some tenants into leaving. And Andrea Park, a housing attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said her group has heard from tenants who were being told to leave during the pandemic, because a court, before the pandemic started, had agreed that the eviction could go forward.
Park said at least 500 new eviction cases have been filed in housing court since March 16, and summonses are being mailed to tenants even though the cases will not actually be heard until the courts reopen for non-emergency matters.
Other differences between the bills relate to what types of evictions are considered exceptions and can go forward, and how long the moratorium will remain in place.
And even as lawmakers debate how to help financially struggling renters, they must also consider the needs of landlords.
Doug Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, said he is not opposed to a temporary moratorium on evictions, but protections need to be in place to make sure that landlords have enough money to continue to pay for municipal taxes (although some due dates may be postponed), utility bills, and maintenance. MassLandlords is advocating for a state-backed surety bond program, in which the state acts as a backstop, paying the landlord if a tenant defaults for COVID-19 related reasons.
“The difficulty is what happens when housing providers run out of money and what decisions are they going to make,” Quattrochi said. “I talk to some landlords who think it’s better to declare bankruptcy and walk away than try to maintain a property where no one’s paying and everyone’s flushing sanitary wipes down the drain.”
Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are getting by now with a lowest-common-denominator approach to legislating, but what happens when they can’t agree? The coronavirus is changing the way lawmakers debate and vote. (CommonWealth)
Gov. Charlie Baker says one of his guiding principles in the fight against COVID-19 is to play the hand he’s dealt, an acknowledgment of how much he and other policymakers are in the dark about what’s coming on the medical and State House fronts. (CommonWealth)
Joan Vennochi suggests the hand dealt at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where employees say understaffing and mismanagement have led to a horrific death toll among elderly veterans from COVID-19, is one that Baker had a lot of control over. (Boston Globe) There are a lot more questions than answers about what happened and why, says a Globe editorial.
Virus notes: Baker’s public safety secretary tests positive for COVID-19….Lauren Baker launches a statewide fund for COVID-19 relief…Nursing home provides housing for its workers… First death in Dukes/Nantucket counties. (CommonWealth)
The Department of Public Health is telling cities and towns not to release the numbers of coronavirus cases in their communities, but some city and town officials are doing it anyway because they feel the public has a right to know. (Telegram & Gazette)
For Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, coronavirus has been an all-consuming focus. (Boston Globe)
The CARES Act extends the social safety net to the gig economy, if only the federal government can figure out how to implement it. (CommonWealth)
Massachusetts’ congressional delegation is unhappy that the federal government only provided 100 of the 1,700 ventilators requested by the state. (Gloucester Daily Times) US Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren ask the federal government to speed up its small business loan program. (MassLive)
White House trade advisor Peter Navarro warned Trump administration officials in a memo in late January, a time when the president was minimizing the threat of coronavirus, that it could evolve into “a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.” (New York Times)
One key forecasting model relied on by the White House has revised its estimates downward of the need for hospital beds and ventilators nationwide. (Washington Post)
Republican US Senate candidate Kevin O’Connor says Congress is doing a poor job of addressing the pandemic. (CommonWealth)
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care with the coronavirus. (NPR)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are essential workers during the pandemic. (Washington Post)
LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS
A University of Washington professor forecasts the peak in Massachusetts will come April 18 and bring with it 373 deaths. His new forecast calls for a total of 8,254 deaths by early August. The current death toll is 260. (Boston Herald)
The news that a Bronx Zoo tiger was diagnosed with coronavirus is raising concerns about people’s pets. (Telegram & Gazette)
Home improvement projects flourish in coronavirus pandemic. (Standard-Times)
Business confidence among Massachusetts employers is taking a nosedive, according to a new AIM survey. (State House News Service)
Major League Baseball is reportedly considering launching the season in May with all of the teams playing in Arizona stadiums with no fans. (ESPN)
Boston University lays off 1,600 people. (MassLive)
Foreign-trained physicians and medical professionals are eager to jump into the coronavirus fight in Massachusetts, but haven’t been cleared to do so yet. (CommonWealth)
The death toll at the Williamstown Commons nursing home rises to 10, accounting for all but three of the deaths in Berkshire County. (Berkshire Eagle)
The state is launching two new COVID-19 testing sites, in Lowell and West Springfield. (MassLive)
Boston Medical Center’s intensive care unit hit its maximum capacity for a time Sunday night, and had to divert incoming patients to other hospitals. (WBUR)
More than one-third of residents at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home have tested positive for COVID-19. (MassLive)
A White House official said testing for coronavirus antibodies could begin within a month for tens of millions of people. (Boston Herald)
Nurses from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs are being deployed to nursing homes in Danvers and Norwood. (The Salem News)
Sixteen nurses were among those furloughed at Lawrence General Hospital, a move their union is calling “shortsighted.” (Eagle-Tribune)
11 of Quincy’s coronavirus cases are in one nursing home, officials say. (Patriot Ledger)
Six inmates and two staff test positive for COVID-19 at the Essex County jail. (Gloucester Daily Times)Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson blasted members of the state’s congressional delegation for “unsubstantiated” claims that his staff members are not testing for coronavirus, especially among federal immigration detainees. (Boston Herald)
The corruption trial of former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia is delayed. (MassLive) US District Court Judge Douglas Woodcock is questioning whether the publicity from a documentary series and a magazine story on the political demise of former Mayor Jasiel Correia II could taint the jury for his trial. (Herald News)