The expiration of Massachusetts’ state of emergency on June 15 will spell the end of several housing-related provisions linked to the declaration of emergency, leaving housing advocates worried about weakening supports for homeless people or at risk of being.
When Governor Charlie Baker announced on Monday that his administration planned to lift nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on May 29, he said the state of emergency would be lifted on June 15. the laundry list executive orders, emergency funding and policies that were used to help stem the impacts of the pandemic on populations across the state.
For Pamela Schwartz, executive director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, there are concerns that if emergency protections are not extended, people affected by the pandemic may be more vulnerable to evictions. A 2020 law directs courts to “pursue” an eviction case, that is, to postpone legal proceedings, if a tenant facing eviction has an application for housing assistance in progress.
“We need to get some quick repairs done,” Schwartz told The Eagle. “These protections are what allow many tenants to stay housed.”
State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said the House and Senate had gathered information on what could expire with the state of emergency, including speaking with lawyers, and that lawmakers were in the process of introducing bills to extend what they deemed necessary. Farley-Bouvier said housing is the first of the “many” issues to be tackled.
“We don’t want to extend the state of emergency, but we want to extend the protections to make sure the protections are still in place,” she said. “If there are going to be several bills or one omnibus bill to deal with this problem, and if we’re going to extend them for a period of time or make them permanent… there are a lot of questions there.
State Senator Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said a state of emergency would be “the big issue” the Senate is focusing its work on after the state budget is passed next week.
“Some parts are really rising to the top as long overdue innovations and changes, and others are making sure that our social safety net remains strong until we have a strong and comprehensive recovery,” he said. -he declares.
One of the main housing safety net programs, Housing Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), has seen its maximum benefits increased to $ 10,000 for a 12-month period during the state of emergency , but the maximum benefits would drop to $ 7,000 after June 15.
While the state expects to receive federal funding for housing assistance, the RAFT will still be important in keeping tenants housed if they are not eligible for federal dollars, Schwartz said. Since RAFT funding is allocated within the state’s annual budget, there is “no reason why we cannot extend the enhanced benefit,” said Farley-Bouvier.
State Senator Brendan Crighton tabled an amendment to the Senate Ways and Means Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal that would cap benefits at $ 10,000 for a full fiscal year, as opposed to a state of emergency.
Rose Webster-Smith, organizer of Springfield No One Leaves, said the end of the state of emergency could be made worse by the expiration on June 30 of the federal moratorium on evictions and several initiatives of the CARES Act . The latter includes forbearance programs and guidelines that prevent foreclosures for homes with federally backed mortgages.
Webster-Smith fears that if evictions increase, a new wave of COVID-19 cases could follow – especially in areas with low vaccination rates, such as Springfield.
“There is a direct correlation between the people who receive these quit smoking advisories and the doubling and tripling,” Webster said. “It is no coincidence that the end of the [Massachusetts eviction] the October moratorium came just before a surge in COVID cases. “
The concerns of sheltersAmong people who work with shelters and those experiencing homelessness in Greater Boston and eastern Massachusetts, there is a mixture of optimism and concern about what lifting the state means. emergency.
“As we address the issue of homelessness in the Commonwealth and the impact of COVID on the emergency shelter system, the emergency is not quite over for us,” said Joe Finn, director executive of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance. the State House press service. “Most providers try not to go back to the way it was because no one wants to relive that particular experience. But they also recognized that shelters are not the best environment for the people they serve.
Finn refers to collective shelters – shared living and sleeping spaces – one of the many options available to homeless people. For Finn, he prefers public and private officials to explore unassembled options – living spaces with some level of privacy – as the state moves towards a post-pandemic future.
An often cited example: a partnership between the Town of Brockton and Father Bill’s & MainSpring to purchase a vacant motel and convert it into permanent housing with supportive services. Father Bill’s president John Yazwinski said he did not want to return to people sleeping on the ground in collective shelters.
“We hope we don’t start overflowing our shelters and putting people to sleep on our floors again,” he said. “And while we’re going to be able to allow more people in, I’m sure we’re not going back to how it was before the pandemic, which means what are we going to do about the lack of beds? Right? So what’s the short and long term plan? “
Hinds and Farley-Bouvier said they were unaware of accommodation arrangements for non-congregations in Berkshire County, and Jay Sacchetti, senior vice president of housing and housing services, of vocational and substance abuse training for ServiceNet, did not immediately respond to a survey Thursday afternoon.
Kelly Turley, associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said Baker’s decision to lift the state of emergency on June 15 means the fate of some federal programs, funds and services is on hold.
People experiencing homelessness and housing instability, she said, are most affected by the pandemic in terms of access to resources, loss of jobs and infection with COVID-19 .
Some shelter providers have used funds made available by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up long-term housing units. Federal dollars were originally made available to states and territories to acquire larger living spaces for people who needed to quarantine or isolate.
Some states have advocated for a larger population of people who could use these spaces, and Massachusetts has received broader clearance from FEMA for the parameters not gathered. Turley said the state’s eligibility to use those funds could disappear once the state of emergency is lifted.
As the state of emergency is set to end, Finn said he is seeking clarification from state and federal authorities on the use of emergency resources made available to shelters to house the people. people during the pandemic.
At a press conference on Monday, Baker said the need to work with the Legislature to decide which pandemic-era resources and policies should be postponed was part of the reason his administration decided to do not lift the state of emergency before June 15.
Joyce Tavon, senior director of shelter alliance policy and programs, said one of her organization’s biggest concerns was whether or not there will be “an appropriate time to develop plans for that people are not left homeless ”.
Finn said he would like the legislature and administration to further develop the concept of non-collective housing, develop a comprehensive plan to tackle homelessness, and use shallow rent subsidy programs.
As the Legislature continues to work on the FY2022 budget, Tavon said she was concerned about resources and funding for supportive housing.
“Further funds for affordable housing, of course, are essential and the steps to ensure that what is funded for housing is safe, is depopulated, where possible, so that we encourage more dignified environments. and without a gathering, ”she said.