Worried Honan Hoped Eviction Moratorium Would Be Extended
Housing Chair Says $100 Mil for RAFT Insufficient
10/13/20 5:18 PM
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 13, 2020.....As Gov. Charlie Baker defended his $171 million plan to mitigate the threat of evictions and foreclosures of Tuesday, the House chair of the Housing Committee said he believed more than twice the amount the governor is prepared to spend on rental vouchers will be needed to avert a crisis.
Rep. Kevin Honan, a Boston Democrat, said that he recommended to the House's chief budget writer Rep. Aaron Michlewitz on Tuesday that the $100 million rental assistance program laid out by Baker be doubled to $200 million in this year's state budget.
"I appreciate the administration making this investment in housing stability, however, we think a lot more needs to be done," Honan said in an interview.
With state's moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expiring on Saturday, Baker and the Massachusetts Trial Court rolled out a plan designed to allow that to happen without jeopardizing the housing stability of tens of thousands of residents.
In addition to providing help with access to housing attorneys and landlord-tenant mediation, the plan calls for a $100 million expansion of a rental voucher program that would provide families with a maximum benefit of $10,000, up from $4,000.
Baker said Tuesday that if the $100 million increase to Rental Assistance for Families in Transition program proves to be insufficient he would "figure it out."
Housing advocates, however, criticized the funding as insufficient to meet the need, which has been estimated to be as many as 100,000 tenants and homeowners who will be unable to pay their rents or mortgages.
"I just feel we need to do a lot more, and I'm very worried," Honan said.
Baker said the longer he allowed the moratorium to stay in place "the deeper the hole would become that everybody would have to find a way out of."
"The uncertainty and the difficulty of continuing to just let that problem fester, from our point of view, was the wrong move at this time," he said.
Baker said "nobody really knows" how many people will need rental assistance when the moratorium expires, but the administration relied on a range of estimates from experts to put the package together.
"If it turns out it's more than we need, that's great. If it turns out it's less than we need, we'll figure it out," Baker said.
Honan has filed legislation that would freeze rents and extend the moratorium until a year after the public health emergency declaration is lifted. The bill, which was recommended earlier this month by the Housing Committee, is currently before the Rules Committee, and "is going to take awhile," he said.
"I just think we need more time here. We had hoped the governor would extend the moratorium to allow for more preparation," Honan said.
The chairman said he had been involved in initial conversations with the administration and Ralph Gants, the late chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, about potential solutions to the housing problem, but was not a part of the plan developed by Baker and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey.
"No, this is an administration program," he said.
Honan said he was also concerned that it would take time the state doesn't have to bring on additional legal aid attorneys to support tenants and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.
Rep. Michael Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat and co-sponsor of the moratorium legislation with Honan, suggested Monday the Legislature was abdicating its duty to the governor to address the housing crisis.
And Rep. Tami Gouveia, an Acton Democrat, blamed Baker for being too influenced by the business community.
"So we’re moving forward w/ evictions as our children are experiencing unprecedented loss & trauma, more families are needing unemployment, restaurants are opting to remain closed this winter, cases continue to climb & a safe vaccine is no where in sight?! Where's the compassion?" Gouveia tweeted.
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