28 Oct Boston University News Service: Boston-area residents seeking rental aid attend housing assistance workshop in Roxbury
By Emma Glassman-Hughes
Boston University News Service
ROXBURY — Faced with the possibility of eviction, dozens of tenants packed Metro Housing Boston’s board rooms for a free housing assistance workshop in Roxbury earlier this month.
Attendees, including people with limited incomes and those who lost their jobs in the pandemic, came on Oct. 16. to apply for emergency rental assistance from state and federal programs that can help them stay in their homes and pay their utility bills.
According to Stefanie Coxe, the executive director of the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, other resources were needed to replace the statewide eviction moratorium when it expired last October. Those resources included renewed support for Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), a statewide initiative that predates Covid-19, and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), a federal initiative and product of the pandemic.
Census data from July indicates that fear of eviction still looms over close to 12,000 Massachusetts residents, who worried they were “very likely” to face eviction in the following months.
Jeff Landis, a spokesperson for Metro Housing Boston, said that although there are available funds, many people are unaware they qualify for help or are unsure how to apply for the aid. Between language barriers, inconsistent internet access, and intimidation from landlords, eligible applicants can miss out on the help they’re entitled to, he said.
“We find that the application can be overwhelming for some people,” Landis said. “We have a lot of people who are not English speakers. And you can’t just say ‘hey I need help’ and we hand you a check. People don’t always understand that.”
Landis said the majority of the 75 registered participants were tenants who were “very behind on their rent” and “very fearful of being evicted.”
He said landlords sometimes threaten eviction even though they aren’t legally able to remove someone from their home. To initiate the eviction process, landlords must issue a “Notice to Quit,” but a tenant can only be officially evicted by a judge in housing court.
“People don’t always know that and they get anxious. Sometimes people just leave their apartment because they don’t know,” Landis said. “That’s a shame.”
Metro Housing Boston hired and trained close to 100 new employees during the pandemic, Landis said, which has helped them process applications for housing aid sometimes months faster than at the outset of the pandemic. Still, delays occur when documents are missing or filled out incorrectly.
The workshop helped people through the application process, with one-on-one assistance from volunteers and staff members, some fluent in Spanish and Haitian Creole.
“We just want people to apply because that’s the first step,” Landis said outside the Metro Housing office. “We’re trying to get the money out the door. That’s our goal.”
Among attendees was Teodora Lopes, who heard about the workshop through a social worker at her children’s school.
Lopes brought three of her 5-year-old quadruplet daughters; back at home on Dudley Street, Lopes has two more children, the fourth quadruplet, a boy, and an 8-year-old daughter.
“It’s only me and my kids, the dad helps sometimes but not every day,” said Lopes, who submitted her application as her daughters started to get antsy. “It’s hard.”
Another attendee was Alphonse, a 67-year-old Chelsea resident who emigrated to Boston from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011 with his wife and two sons. He was laid off from his job at the JCDecaux Group, an advertising agency, early in the pandemic, and has been delivering food for DoorDash to keep his family afloat.
Alphonse, who asked for his last name to be omitted, spends 40 hours a week making deliveries, but he’s still behind on rent and utilities. The workshop volunteers helped him organize his application materials, but because he was missing a document, he wasn’t yet able to submit.
While the pandemic has made life harder for so many, Coxe said it’s also clarified the state’s priorities for housing equity. She said state legislators and the affordable housing community need to come together to develop a “vision” for the future of emergency rental assistance.
“These affordable housing programs are absolutely necessary toward solving our housing crisis, but they’re not sufficient,” she said.
Coxe stressed that a strong commitment was necessary to serve “extremely low-income households so that the burden doesn’t fall disproportionately on them as so much does in our society.”