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Throughout the pandemic, state and federal governments developed policies to protect residents facing job loss and other COVID-19 related hardships. Among those orders were moratoriums placed on home evictions. When the state’s pause on evictions expired on October 17, 2020, the federal moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) became effective in Massachusetts.

The CDC order, which has been extended several times, prohibits residential landlords nationwide from evicting certain tenants through July 31, 2021. Over the past year while the moratorium has been in place, courts have accepted filings, processed cases, and in some cases even entered judgments; however, no orders of execution (a court order that allows a landlord to evict a tenant) have been permitted. The CDC has said there will be no additional extensions on the eviction moratorium which means these cases can move forward.

The current order requires renters who’ve fallen behind on their rent to submit a signed declaration form to their landlord stating they’ve lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic and have made an effort to look for financial assistance, as well as meet specific income/other criteria. The Biden-Harris Administration will begin “a series of actions” to help state and local governments prevent evictions once the ban is lifted.

Renters comprise about one-third of the nation’s population, or approximately 44 million households — many of whom have been protected in some way since Congress passed the initial CARES Act in March. Alongside the federal ban, some state and local governments have passed additional eviction and utility shutoff protections.

In October 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the Eviction Diversion Initiative (EDI), with an initial investment of $171 million in assistance to prevent evictions after the state eviction moratorium expired. In Massachusetts, utility companies are prohibited from shutting off residential utilities during the heating season, from November 15 through March 15, and the Baker-Polito Administration extended this moratorium through July 1, 2021 in response to COVID-19.

With the Eviction Diversion Initiative, the state directed $100 million for additional emergency rental assistance through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, nearly $50 million for post-eviction rapid rehousing, and up to $12.3 million for tenant and landlord access to community mediation and legal representation prior to and during the eviction process. The COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) works through six regional legal aid organizations to provide legal help for low-income tenants, and a collaboration with the Volunteer Lawyers Project works with low-income homeowners who reside in a home with 2-3 rental units.

EDI also included increased funding for Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs) to hire Special Service Coordinators to help households with more complicated needs navigate available resources.

Massachusetts’ Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) was allocated $768M from the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for emergency housing assistance. In March 2021, EDI expanded with the launch of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which provides expanded rental relief to eligible households, alongside the pre-existing state RAFT and Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) programs. ERAP benefits currently include:

  • Renters and their landlords may receive up to 18 months of combined rental and utilities assistance, with no dollar cap.
  • Separately, under the state’s RAFT and ERMA programs, renters and landlords may receive up to $10,000 during a state of emergency and up to $7,000 for six months after the end of a state of emergency.
  • Renters applying for ERAP assistance may earn up to 80% of Area Median Income (AMI).
  • RAFT has an income eligibility limit of 50% AMI (60% for Domestic Violence), and ERMA is available for households between 50% and 80% AMI.

For ERAP, renters must be able to provide a statement attesting to unemployment, decreased wages, or increased expenses due to COVID-19 and may only receive help with rent and utilities accrued since March 13, 2020.

For more information on rental and mortgage assistance, please visit www.mass.gov/CovidHousingHelp. You can also connect with your regional legal aid organization at www.evictionlegalhelp.org

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