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Massachusetts housing agencies ask to continue eviction prevention policy set to expire

In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, tenants' rights advocates demonstrate in front of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston.
Michael Dwyer
In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, tenants' rights advocates demonstrate in front of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston.

Massachusetts housing agencies and advocates are asking state lawmakers to extend a pandemic-era eviction prevention policy which expires this Friday.

The expiring provision requires eviction cases to be paused when a tenant has an application pending for rental aid. That includes money from the state's Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, or RAFT.

Many people show up asking for help with the RAFT applications at Way Finders in Springfield, Massachusetts, said the organization's president and CEO Keith Fairey.

The lobby in Way Finders' building is filled every day with tenants asking for assistance with the complicated process, Fairey said.

"It is an online application and there are many barriers that people face [to filling them out]," Fairey said. "There's documentation barriers, there's literacy barriers, there's digital literacy barriers. There's having a device or the tools to connect online."

Sufficient RAFT funding is available, Fairey said, and the delay tied to a RAFT application buys people time to prevent an eviction.

"It's concerning that, if there's not coordination between the courts, and understanding where these applications are in a way that is working toward a goal of housing security and stability — we could be facing some dire situations," Fairey said.

Earlier this month, about 100 housing groups, including Way Finders, sent a letter to lawmakers and court justices, urging them to keep the policy in place through July 2024, "to allow more time for a permanent solution to be put into place."

Lawmakers have extended the policy on two previous occasions.

Last summer, Massachusetts housing officials put a new requirement into the RAFT application, Fairey said. In order to be eligible for assistance, you had to have a "notice to quit" from your landlord, the first step in an eviction process.

"It's important that people not take that as a notice to vacate, but that's a point where you should be applying for emergency rental assistance," Fairey said, which can help tenants pay past-due rent.

Most people, Fairey said, don't know that.

"Most tenants are unrepresented in housing court and housing cases," Fairey said. "And so, by putting these ... protections in place, we can make sure that people have the time to apply and have time for their applications to make it through the process."

Evictions will significantly spike otherwise, Fairey said, "and more people, particularly families, will be turning to the emergency assistance system which is already overburdened."

This report contains information from the State House News Service.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."

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