With eviction moratoriums set to continue in Massachusetts through at least Dec. 31, the future isn’t looking any more certain for tenants or their landlords.
A federal judge last week said the state’s eviction moratorium raises significant constitutional concerns the longer it continues, although he declined to force an immediate end to the freeze. But even if he had, the state would then find itself under the edict of the Centers for Disease Control who, at President Donald Trump’s direction, recently declared a nationwide ban on evictions covering renters making less than $99,000, or $198,000 for couples filing jointly.
Meanwhile, Congress appears no more likely to reach a deal on a new round of economic support payments than it did when senators and representatives left Washington D.C. for their August recess. Republican legislators appear convinced they will fall victim to primary challengers worried about the national debt if they vote for anything more than a barebones package.
This stalemate, and the state’s cloudy revenue picture, leaves local landlords and tenants jointly holding the bag. Landlords with tenants out of work face the immediate costs of making mortgage payments, repairs and in some cases utility payments. And tenants unable to pay are still racking up debts that will come due eventually, and perhaps sooner than many think.
Some estimates put the combined value of missed rent payments in Massachusetts as high as $100 million a month. Repeated for six months in a row, that comes to a little under 1.5 percent of the state’s fiscal year 2019 budget, or 2.6 percent of safety net spending for that fiscal year. With nearly every dollar the state raises in taxes already spoken for, generating that kind of revenue on an ongoing basis would require slashing funding for important priorities elsewhere absent any new revenue.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, along with many local governments, have set up funds to help the neediest make rental payments, but the money available is clearly insufficient to meet all needs.
Absent federal aid, which may not come unless and until the balance of power shifts in the nation’s capital, what can be done? So far, two ideas exist. The first, a tax on single-family home sales proposed by MassLandlords, has yet to find support on Beacon Hill. The second, a fund proposed by progressive legislators that would be filled from state coffers and private donations, but whose price – a dramatic extension of the eviction freeze and other changes to landlord-tenant relations – is far too high for real estate interests to accept.
Alacrity is typically anathema to members of the state legislature. But with the state primaries now out of the way, Beacon Hill and lobby groups on all sides must roll up their sleeves and get to work on a solution. There is no time to waste.
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