You could practically hear the collective exhale last week when Gov. Charlie Baker said the state would stretch out an emergency ban on foreclosures and evictions. People can stay in their homes at least another 60 days past the ban’s original expiration, was the gist, even if they’re out of work and struggling to pay the bills.
The relief, however, goes just so far. Putting off foreclosure does not pay the mortgage and delaying eviction doesn't catch up a tenant’s overdue rent. Homeowners and renters are still on the hook, and despite the state’s exhortations to stay as up-to-date as possible, the pile of past-due payments is deepening. Given the shape of the economy and uncertainty over what the next several months will bring in terms of COVID-19, it’s a fair bet things will only get worse.
The state’s steps to protect renters and borrowers need to be buttressed by a more extensive plan for the next wave of people affected by the property crisis — landlords who themselves are falling behind. A plan that deserves consideration, being advocated by the group MassLandlords, would have the state issue bonds to help cover the rent that tenants are unable to pay. Property owners could apply the money to their own expenses, whether it be mortgages or utilities or maintenance.
It’s not a perfect solution. It’s a subsidy without apparent limit. And a lifeline to landlords isn't as politically savory on Beacon Hill as programs meant to directly help families and consumers on the bottom rung who are affected by the pandemic. Still, a collapsing residential rental market hurts a lot of people, most especially those who could lose their homes as a result.
Protection comes with a cost, and the landlords are paying. So much that they're suing the state in federal court to block the eviction ban. They argue it violates their Fifth Amendment rights by taking their property without compensation and blocks their due process rights to seek relief in court.
Families shouldn’t get tossed to the street because the state’s shutdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 put breadwinners out of work. Yet, somewhere along the line, the state needs a real plan to address the problems the freeze on evictions has created.