$3 million fund to help Bostonians pay their rent during COVID-19 pandemic
Mayor Martin J. Walsh yesterday announced that his Administration is dedicating $3 million in city funds to assist Bostonians who are at risk of losing their rental housing due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The funds will help income-eligible tenants in the City of Boston achieve housing stability by providing direct financial relief to assist with rental payments. Applications to the Rental Relief Fund will be available on Monday, April 6th.
"In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a national crisis at a scale not seen in our lifetime, it is imperative that all levels of government exercise all possible tools to ensure the health and safety of our residents, and to keep them stably housed," said Mayor Walsh. "As a key piece of legislation makes its way through the State House, it is our hope that this funding will offer immediate financial relief to renters in Boston who otherwise would be unable to make their rent payment. We understand that this resource is critical to have in place not only for economic reasons, but also to protect the public health."
With the statewide stay-at-home advisory extended through May 4th, the City of Boston recognizes the financial strain put on renters who have reduced or no employment income. According to estimates generated by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) on behalf of the City of Boston, there were 10,900 renter households in the "first wave" of unemployment applications filed by Bostonians in the week ending March 21st. With today's announcement that national unemployment filings doubled from 3.3 million to 6.6 million, the number of households in Boston experiencing difficulty in paying their rent is expected to rise.
"This program announced by the City today will go a long way to help residents who are struggling and at risk of losing their homes because of the current health crisis," said Chris Norris, Executive Director for Metro Housing Boston. "Our friends and neighbors who already faced challenges with obtaining and maintaining housing now have even more barriers. These funds will make a difference for families with the greatest need - those with very low incomes and extremely low incomes. Metro Housing|Boston is pleased to partner with Mayor Walsh and his team as they launch this lifeline to the residents of Boston because everyone deserves a place to call home."
The newly established fund, which is being managed by the Office of Housing Stability at the Department of Neighborhood Development with two nonprofit partners, Metro Housing|Boston and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), will provide income-eligible Bostonians with up to $4,000 in financial assistance to be used for rent. To qualify for this financial assistance, residents must either not be eligible for the new extended unemployment benefits offered by the federal government, or because of the nature of their job, the unemployment benefits that they will receive represent a significant reduction in their actual income. The funding will only be available to households earning less than 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which is $72,000 for a two-person household. A significant portion of these funds are reserved for households with extremely low incomes (under $25,000 for a single-person household), and very low-incomes or less than $42,000 for a single person (50 percent AMI).
"The need for rent relief as soon as possible for Bostonians, especially low-income families and women heads of household, is enormous," said Philip Giffee, Executive Director of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc./NOAH. "Far too many individuals and families have lost jobs - either temporarily or permanently - and are no longer able to make ends meet. These families are in immediate need of some form of assistance to keep them in their apartments. NOAH applauds the Mayor and the City for stepping up and providing some relief to help these desperate families."
The ultimate amount of assistance renters can receive will be determined after taking into account other sources of income, including the expected expansion of unemployment benefits under new federal rules established by the CARES Act, and one-time payments being issued to income-eligible residents from the federal government. The City will monitor usage of the funds closely and anticipates devoting additional resources to this effort from federal CARES Act or other City revenue sources in the coming weeks.
"In this unprecedented public health crisis, we're thrilled to see the City lead in helping to alleviate the economic crisis that many Boston families are facing," said Mac McCreight, Lead Attorney, Greater Boston Legal Services Housing Unit. "We look forward to collaborating with housing providers and other helping agencies in getting assistance quickly to those who need it."
Over the last several week, the City of Boston has taken swift action to protect our most vulnerable residents from losing their homes, including:
- The Boston Housing Authority stopped pursuing all non-essential evictions;
- The Boston Housing Authority and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) are creating a new partnership to house up to 1,000 families with BPS students at risk of displacement and experiencing homelessness over the next year;
- Formed a partnership with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations to urge a citywide moratorium on eviction proceedings;
- Asked the Boston Housing Court to stay all non-emergency eviction proceedings, which the Supreme Judicial Court has instituted throughout the statewide housing court system until April 21;
- Supporting legislation that provides residential and commercial tenants and homeowners with protections against evictions and foreclosures during and for a period of time after the State of Emergency is lifted.
In 2016, Mayor Walsh created the City of Boston's Office of Housing Stability, the first of its kind in the nation, that is designed to keep communities intact by helping tenants maintain their housing. The Office's work includes supporting tenants who are in crisis; creating and offering resources, programs, and information for both tenants and landlords to learn about their rights and responsibilities; and researching and creating policies that aim to prevent displacement. The Office also oversees the Metrolist web site, a clearinghouse for income-restricted housing opportunities in Boston and neighboring communities.
Resources and information about COVID-19 are available on boston.gov/coronavirus. Resources available on boston.gov and through City departments include support for renters and homeowners; small businesses; free meals for Boston students; free toiletries for Boston students; emergency childcare centers; support for older residents; information on homeless shelters; transportation options for healthcare workers; resources for those in recovery or those who have a substance use disorder; and mental health resources.