By Theresa Hatton, CEO of Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®
With the ending of the Federal Center for Disease Control eviction moratorium, now is a critical time for agents to bone up on existing housing programs and policies so they can help ensure both tenants and landlords receive the benefits that are available to them.
The Massachusetts Eviction Diversion Initiative (EDI) is a national leader in disbursing funds to households in-need to protect housing stability. It was created with great foresight by the governor and state legislature in October 2020, long before most other states were taking any such action and months before the federal government started providing emergency rental assistance to states. As a result, Massachusetts has had more time to smooth out processes, staff-up programs and get money out to those in need.
The data demonstrates EDI’s success, with more than 33,000 evictions prevented thus far. Based on U.S. Treasury Department Emergency Rental Assistance reports and data on state programs such as RAFT and ERMA, Massachusetts is a national leader in both funds provided and households assisted, despite ranking 14th in population. Including state funds from the start of the EDI and federal funds provided since January, the state ranked second in rent, rental arrears, and utilities paid and held a commanding lead in households assisted, with 6,000 more than the next closest state.
State eviction filings provide another metric showing success, as they remain significantly lower than norms before the state of emergency. Both weekly and monthly filings are far below pre-pandemic numbers. Eviction filings dropped 59% year-over-year from 2019 to 2020, although part of 2020 was impacted by the state eviction moratorium, which barred new eviction filings for several weeks, as well as court closings at the start of the pandemic.
A better, and more accurate, comparison would be year-over-year between 2019 and the first half of 2021, when the biggest difference between years was the EDI, as courts were open and there was no state eviction moratorium during either period. In the first half of 2021, monthly and weekly filings are far from pre-pandemic norms, having dropped 38% from the corresponding 2019 period. Property owners are not filing evictions, and thus fewer residents are facing housing instability because landlords and tenants are receiving the funding they need from EDI.
Massachusetts has the capacity to do more by continuing on its current path. The state has only spent about a quarter of its current federal allotment and seems likely to have full capacity to meet current needs. EDI will continue buying time until a full economic recovery, and the number of households needing assistance will continue to shrink.
There is no question that EDI continues to benefit Massachusetts renters. Based on survey data, the number of households in need has dropped 32% since a high-water-mark in January, when federal emergency rental relief was first becoming available.
Massachusetts has also developed an effective application process. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has stated that the denial rate on applications is only 5% to 10% for all applications processed, and roughly one-third of denials are duplicate applications. The majority of denials are for applicants who do not fit the bounds of the program because their income levels are above the 80% threshold, they are not at risk of homelessness or housing instability, or are otherwise ineligible for assistance.
Finally, the legislature has also taken action to protect rental-aid applicants, even if their application takes longer to process because the initial submission is incomplete. The legislature extended until April 1, 2022, the requirement that courts grant continuances for tenants with pending rental assistance claims who face eviction for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19. Thus, because we now know that the vast majority of pending applications are awaiting additional information and not flatly denied, and that applicants with pending applications are protected from evictions, EDI again proves its effectiveness at protecting housing stability.
According to US News & World Report, only 11% of the total funds made available by the federal relief programs have been distributed. Neighboring New York and Rhode Island have distributed less than 2% of what is available to them.
The Massachusetts Association of Realtors is proud to have worked with the legislature and Baker administration to support and promote the EDI. By all metrics, the EDI is a national leader in preserving housing stability, having disbursed $210 million in aid, with the average household receiving $6,544 in assistance.