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Massachusetts renters and their landlords will get some measure of relief from a $900 billion federal COVID-19 aid package agreed to by congressional negotiators Sunday night.

The bill, whose text is being finalized, includes $25 billion in rental assistance that will be distributed by state and local governments. The money can be used for “assistance with rent and utility payments, unpaid rent or utility bills that have accumulated since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and other housing expenses that were incurred due, directly or indirectly, to the pandemic,” according to the office of House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California.

The aid will be limited to households that make no more than 80 percent of area median income, have one or more members at risk of homelessness or housing instability and have one or more members who “qualify for unemployment benefits or experienced financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the pandemic,” Waters office said, noting that renter households making 50 percent of area median income or less and unemployed renter households will receive priority.

It also extends the Centers for Disease Control’s nationwide eviction moratorium until Jan. 31, 2021. The moratorium had previously been scheduled to end Dec. 31.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a renter and affordable housing provider advocacy group that’s been involved in some of the negotiations, estimates that Massachusetts will receive $460.47 million.

This money could be added to the $100 million budgeted for the state’s Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT). A spokesperson for the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development was not immediately available for comment on the Maker Administration’s plans.

Still, landlords and housing advocates alike said they were heartened by the inclusion of significant amounts of rental assistance in the federal relief package.

“This package will provide much needed time and funding to help people stay in their homes. As the pandemic and unemployment persist, more funding will be needed in the new year,” Citizens Housing and Planning Alliance Executive Director Rachel Heller said in an email. “The funding provided in this bill will help renters to catch up and not be behind on rent when the moratorium ends. This is critical to renters and their ability to stay stable in their homes.”

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated in an October report that the state would need $42.3 million per month to cover rent arrearages based on unemployment claims data, meaning total rent arrearages in the state could already be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Half a billion [dollars] is a very meaningful addition to what Massachusetts has already allocated through the Eviction Diversion Initiative. We were saying from the beginning that this is a billion dollar problem in Massachusetts. We’re now more than halfway there,” MassLandlords Executive Director Doug Quattrochi said in an email.

Tenants’ organizations have recently criticized the slow rollout of Eviction Diversion Initiative, Gov. Charlie Baker’s $160 million plan to prevent a wave of evictions following the end of the state’s own eviction moratorium via a combination of state rental assistance and mediation services.

This delay means the extension of the federal eviction moratorium is welcome, said Joe Kriesberg, president of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC).

“We are thankful that Congress has extended the CDC Moratorium for at least one month as this will give the Biden Administration time to consider a further extension when he takes office,” Kriesberg said in an email. “We need more time to get the Governor’s Eviction Diversion Initiative up to full speed so we can disperse more relief dollars to tenants and landlords, while also getting the mediation and legal services aspects of the program fully operational and staffed.”

Kreisberg warned, however, that the state should use the new federal money to add to its current eviction prevention programs, not replace existing resources.

“Hopefully, the Federal Government will give the Commonwealth the flexibility to move quickly without unnecessary red tape,” he said.

Still, the current federal eviction moratorium is having an effect, Quattrochi said, with numbers of new eviction cases holding steady not too far above pre-pandemic rates.

“For [landlords] dealing with nonpayment issues there’s not a lot you can do to regain possession. The name of the game is trying to get subsidy,” he told Banker & Tradesman in a phone interview. “And that’s really the way it should be. Eighty percent of evictions in Massachusetts are filed because of nonpayment. If Massachusetts had affordable housing or an adequate safety net, hundreds of court staffers could be doing something else.”

Greater Boston Real Estate Board Executive Director Greg Vasil said the softness in the urban core rental market will likely encourage landlords to work with tenants even after the moratorium ends.

“A landlord doesn’t want to lose good tenants – [they] can be hard to find. A landlord is going to work with these people,” he said. “Especially in the city, rents are off, vacancies are up. It’s not clear you’re going to have this mad rush in September.”

GBREB was able to organize a coalition of Boston’s biggest commercial landlords this fall to self-impose a moratorium on eviction filings through Dec. 31. Vasil said he expected that coalition to extend its moratorium through Jan. 31 if the COVID aid deal passes. A separate pledge signed in November by nearly five dozen nonprofit affordable housing providers to help tenants in arrears seek aid and agree to payment plans runs until March 31.

COVID-19 Aid Deal Includes $25B for Renters, Eviction Moratorium Extension

by James Sanna time to read: 4 min