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State House April 2023. Photo by Mike Connolly. Copyright 2023 by Mike Connolly.

Eviction protections for Mass tenants seeking rental assistance could become permanent

When the pandemic struck, the Massachusetts House led the way in passing the nation’s strongest eviction and foreclosure moratorium. The moratorium saved many lives during six of the worst months of the pandemic.

When Governor Baker and the courts would no longer support further extensions of the moratorium in October 2020, we passed Ch. 257 of the Acts of 2020, a temporary law that halts the eviction process for tenants seeking rental assistance.

Ch. 257 has prevented thousands of renters in Massachusetts from losing their apartments over the past two and a half years — but the temporary law expired last month.

As a longtime renter and as a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, I have been determined to make this basic tenant protection a permanent feature of our General Laws. Ch. 257 keeps tenants housed and makes landlords whole. It’s a win-win that depends on us in government making these programs work for all who are in need — something I strongly support.

This session, I filed legislation (H.3777) to accomplish the goal of making these protections permanent. During this year’s budget process, I met with House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz to indicate this as my top priority for an outside policy section. I also appeared on WGBH to advocate for these protections.

Last week, we spent the better part of three days discussing some 1,566 amendments to the House Ways and Means Budget. We voted on 7 consolidated amendments and 3 floor amendments before unanimously passing our engrossed version of the fiscal year 2024 state budget on Wednesday evening. I’m proud to report this year’s House budget makes these Ch. 257 eviction protections permanent!

Thank you to Speaker Ron Mariano, W&M Chair Michlewitz, Housing Chair Jim Arciero, and to all of my colleagues for supporting this housing justice priority. Thanks as well to the advocates from MLRI, the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, and to everyone who advocated for making Ch. 257 permanent.

In addition to these eviction protections, I’m pleased to say the House budget includes a number of other key policy initiatives — from universal free school meals for all schoolchildren, to ensuring the continued availability of Mifepristone and providing for No Cost Calls for people who are incarcerated. And the budget includes my local amendments to direct funding to advance the Cambridge HEART program and to help establish a new Somerville Green Jobs program. For progressives in general, and for Cambridge and Somerville residents in particular, there’s plenty of highlights in this budget.

We voted to appropriate the incoming Fair Share Amendment revenues — allocating half to new transportation investments and half to new education spending. We also included a provision to exempt future Fair Share revenues from triggering the Ch. 62F Tax Cap law, further ensuring that all of the new revenue from the millionaires’ tax does indeed go to new spending for transportation and education. Last fall, I was recognized for fighting a “lonely battle” to reform Ch. 62F. This spring, House leaders have largely acted upon our progressive critique of the law.

Despite these wins, there’s still work to be done and some cause for concern. As I highlighted in my previous newsletter, the House recently advanced a tax-cut package that includes a 58% cut to the short term capital gains rate — over the next decade, this one change could deliver an extra billion dollars to the wealthiest 1% of households in Massachusetts. This is the issue that inspired me to take to the House floor last month to call for some changes to the $1.1 billion/year tax-cut package. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center is suggesting that this budget is “smaller than it may seem at first glance” in light of inflation and recent supplemental spending.

We’ve come a long way on Ch. 257 and several other key issues since last month, and now that the House has concluded its part of the engrossment process, the budget moves to the state Senate for further consideration. My office is currently preparing a complete summary of the House budget to share later this week. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns about the budget or any other matter.

This article was originally published on May 1, 2023 on Rep. Mike Connolly’s blog.

Mike Connolly is the state representative for the Somerville and Cambridge neighborhoods that make up the 26th Middlesex District.

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