Councilor Not Happy With State Housing Help Program

The state’s RAFT emergency housing program couldn’t come soon enough for a lot of tenants on rocky ground due to the eviction moratorium being lifted last month, but according to Councilor Stephanie Martins that help isn’t very helpful in Everett.

Expecting a wave of evictions for tenants in apartments throughout Everett who cannot pay due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker invested heavily in the existing RAFT program, which had already been tapped last summer to expand its long-time efforts to help tenants stay in their homes when facing an emergency.

However, Martins said she has been helping tenants try to get help with RAFT, and the agencies handling the program are dropping the ball repeatedly.

“The biggest challenge right now, in the absence of municipal rental relief fund coming from the City, is that RAFT is the only lifeline,” she said. “We’ve seen issues navigating the application. The other challenge is they have lost certain applications frequently. We also had an application where the person had to prove they had the funds going forward to pay their rent after three months of help. That was absurd. This is an emergency, so who would know the future here? We can’t deny applicants help because they can’t prove how they’ll pay in the future. We have to help people today.”

Jeff Landis, from MetroHousing Boston – the long-time administrator of RAFT, said they have distributed $4.7 million to more than 1,300 households in Greater Boston since July, but have had some challenges in ramping up to meet demand.

“We agree that the process is taking too long,” he said. “We have hired 47 new staff for RAFT since October 22.  We anticipate that by the end of this week we will have contacted every person who has submitted an application. Hopefully the residents of Everett will see some improvement very soon.

He said they have had a hard time making sure and getting complete applications.

“Very often the applications that are submitted do not include all of the necessary information and it usually takes a significant amount of time to collect it from people,” he said. “The other challenge we have experienced is people who think they have submitted an application but who have not.  A number of the recent situations highlighted by the media, when we looked into them, actually involved people who started an application but never submitted it to us. Verifying that someone actually completed the entire application and included the supporting documentation and then submitted it is the best way to make sure things move as quickly as possible.”

Martins said this is one reason she and Councilor Michael McLaughlin called on the City to create a municipal rent relief program last month, similar to what Chelsea has done over the past several months.

That hasn’t come quickly though, but Martins said the City Administration has told her they plan to use federal money coming soon to establish that kind of emergency rent help.

Right now, with RAFT being the only line of help, Martins said she is trying to work with applicants so the pitfalls aren’t an issue. She also said there needs to be better communication with landlords, education of landlords that might be new immigrants to the country and also cooperation from landlords.

“They are not notifying landlords there is an application in process,” she said. “So there is a communication issue, challenges with filling out an application and requests that don’t make sense…What really seems to be the problem is both landlords and tenants seem not to be aware of the law. We need to educate the city as a whole on this.”

The official eviction process in Massachusetts can take months, and it has been estimated that any eviction filed at the first week of the moratorium lift last month would get action just after Thanksgiving. So, very few legal evictions have yet taken place. However, there are plenty of verbal and high-pressure situations occurring in Everett where landlords try to force tenants out.

“A lot of the eviction situation I’ve been helping to handle with the City Solicitor’s Office are verbal evictions where they’re trying to force the tenant to leave,” she said. “We’ve had situations already where landlords cut off the electricity or show up without notice and enter the apartment.”

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