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March 21, 2023

Eviction prevention policy set to expire March 31

Photo | Christine Peterson The Main South neighborhood was included in the worst-ranked section in the 1936 redlined map of Worcester, and the area has remained in a cycle of poverty and lack of investment ever since.

More than one hundred organizations endorsed a call Monday for lawmakers to extend a pandemic-era eviction prevention policy, warning that the looming March 31 expiration will displace Bay Staters and stymie other efforts to keep people in their homes.

A section of state law known as "Chapter 257" requires eviction cases to be paused when a tenant has an application pending for rental aid, such as through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. That requirement ceases come April, bringing to an end what Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless Associate Director Kelly Turley called "a critical upstream homelessness prevention tool and effective force for housing stability."

Housing advocates argue that the process of applying for RAFT can take weeks or months to complete, a duration of time that does not mesh well with eviction cases in courts.

"Since going into effect in January 2021, at least 9,000 case continuances have been granted under the law, and untold numbers of tenants have been able to stabilize their housing and prevent eviction simply by having the chance to complete the rental assistance process," advocates wrote in the letter. "There is broad agreement among policymakers that residents across Massachusetts are experiencing a housing crisis. Chapter 257 is a key homelessness prevention tool that we know is working, at a time when housing instability is on the rise and the state is struggling to provide adequate shelter to families and individuals who are unhoused."

Groups that signed the letter, organized by Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, urged lawmakers to keep the policy in place until July 31, 2024 "to allow more time for a permanent solution to be put into place." Lawmakers have extended Chapter 257 on two previous occasions.

Reps. Samantha Montaño and Peter Capano and Sen. Liz Miranda filed legislation that would make the pandemic-era protections permanent (H 1682 / S 1048).

Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville filed an amendment to a supplemental budget (S 23) seeking another Chapter 257 extension, but withdrew her proposal without attempting to force a debate and vote on it.

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