With emergency rental assistance window closing, advocates warn of impacts

Without the crutch of emergency rental assistance in the age of the pandemic, Antonia De Leon of Lynn fears she and her family would have been unable to stay in their home.

They had never fallen behind on rent before the pandemic, De Leon said, but once COVID-19 hit her husband lost his restaurant job and she had to change to a new, lower-paying job. .

De Leon and his family have turned to the Emergency Rent Assistance Program, or ERAP, which has up to 18 months of available assistance to cover rent arrears and future rent for tenants financially impacted by COVID. -19.

“If this program hadn’t existed, I could have been out on the streets homeless with my family,” De Leon, speaking in Spanish with an English interpreter, told a crowd of lawyers and reporters outside. the State House on Tuesday. “There are many families who need this help, but sometimes their stories go unheard.”

After Friday, Massachusetts residents will no longer be able to apply for housing assistance covered by federal ERA dollars, which the Baker administration says are dwindling and likely to run out before June 30.

Families in need can still turn to the state-funded Transitioning Families Housing Assistance Program – which will receive a $100 million boost under a supplementary budget signed by the governor. Charlie Baker on April 1 – but housing advocates warn that the alternative will be insufficient to match the scale of need with lingering COVID-19 threats.

ERAP offered more extensive benefits with looser eligibility requirements, allowing households earning up to 80% of the region’s median income to apply against the 50% RAFT threshold.

Citing De Leon as an example, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute community advocacy director Andrea Park said the Lynn family would not be eligible for RAFT even though they are still struggling to make ends meet.

“If this program ends on Friday, starting next week, she will not be eligible for any rental assistance,” Park said. “What will happen to Antonia and many others like her?

“A lot of us were sick with COVID as recently as February, and so I think while we want this to be in the rearview mirror – and we’re making a lot of progress towards that – we have to remember that it’s there are still people who are really struggling to get back on their feet,” Park added. “This is an emergency program. We still have emergency money available.”

Since the PARE program began in March 2021, the Baker administration has distributed more than $600 million to 74,200 households, according to a spokesperson. Officials projected last month that the state had about $200 million in unspent federal rental assistance funds, which the administration expects to deplete by the end of the fiscal year at the current rate. requests and payments.

The Supplementary Estimates that increased RAFT funding by $100 million also extended to March 31, 2023 pandemic eviction protections that require courts to stay all proceedings for non-payment of rent if a tenant has a pending help request.

Rally attendees renewed their call on Tuesday for lawmakers to tap into the state government’s roughly $2.3 billion in federal funds remaining from the US bailout law or a revenue surplus. developing taxes to maintain the increase in emergency housing assistance.

“All those words we’ve heard about the importance of front-line workers, about people finally recognizing the connection between health and housing, about racial disparities and economic disparities – we’ve heard a lot of nice words from the Governor and the legislature,” said Lynn Isaac Simon Hodes, director of the United for Change Empowerment project. “This is where the rubber hits the road. Cutting a program like this will only exacerbate those same divisions.”

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