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Housing aid getting out the door faster, officials say



Housing aid getting out the door faster, officials say

The state is delivering more than 10 times the amount of emergency housing aid monthly to landlords and tenants to relieve pandemic pressures than it did last December, an effort state officials said is emerging as a success.

Baker administration officials said they feel confident the state’s response is working to keep vulnerable residents housed, particularly after some housing activists and lawmakers warned that U.S. Supreme Court’s Aug. 26 ruling lifting a federal eviction moratorium would exacerbate the strain.

Massachusetts has significantly ramped up its distribution of rental aid in recent months and has implemented changes to streamline the process, the officials said.

“We certainly understand and recognize there’s been a lot of ongoing concerns among renters and landlords impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in light of recent actions by the Supreme Court on the CDC moratorium,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy on Friday. “There’s a lot of national stories and national coverage on the topic, and we frankly don’t believe the national headlines are an accurate depiction of what’s happening here in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts has distributed nearly $270 million in emergency housing assistance to more than 40,000 unique households since March 2020, according to data presented by the administration.

The pace has been accelerating since late last year, too. In December, the state distributed $4.1 million in rental aid to 1,363 households; by August, the monthly total reached $46 million and 15,644 households.

As of Sept. 10, officials said, Massachusetts had spent or obligated $266.5 million from its first batch of Emergency Rental Assistance funding. That represents 61% of the initial pot, just 4 percentage points short of the end-of-month goal.

Department of Housing and Community Development Chief of Programs Amy Stitley called that “a really good position to take other funds should they become available.”

However, some attorneys who work with tenants facing eviction and lawmakers who have pushed for a more sweeping response do not share the administration’s opinion of the diversion initiative.

Molly Broderick, an attorney in the housing unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, said the administration has implemented “some productive changes, especially in the last month,” but that the program overall is “still not where it needs to be.”

“Here in Massachusetts, we’re still seeing the money is really, really hard to access. Maybe more people are getting access to it than in June, but in June, the majority of applications for rental assistance were getting rejected,” Broderick said. “Just because it’s gotten better doesn’t mean that it’s enough.”

— Chris Lisinski / State House News Service

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