City Councilor Lydia Edwards held a virtual “coffee hour” on Saturday, April 18, via Facebook Live to discuss housing concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was joined by Joey Michalakes, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, to discuss housing resources and tenant/landlord rights as well as answer questions from residents online.
Councilor Edwards, who represents the North End, Charlestown, and East Boston, started the conversation by urging residents to remain at home, citing recent data that shows younger people have the highest rate of infection while the elderly remain the most vulnerable to becoming critically ill. As of April 27, Massachusetts is third in the country for infection rates behind only New York and New Jersey.
During the coffee hour, Councilor Edwards acknowledged that the City of Boston was already facing a housing crisis. Approximately half of Boston residents make no more than $50,000 per year, demonstrating the ever-widening income and wealth gaps present in the City. With 66% of residents being renters, Boston was experiencing a large amount of resident displacement due to unaffordable rent. This unprecedented public health crisis will only exacerbate existing inequities as unemployment claims rise and the inability to pay rent is expected to increase.
Councilor Edwards also highlighted certain protections and rights that both landlords and tenants have during the pandemic. She stressed that while common sense and good health practices are crucial components to navigate housing during a pandemic, there are basic rights that will always stand regardless of a public health emergency. Tenants are still entitled to the right to a safe and secure home and that as a landlord, there is a continued obligation to provide repairs to tenants.
Councilor Edwards and Michalakes acknowledged that while many Bostonians have suffered unexpected unemployment and income loss during this crisis, the obligation to pay rent still stands for tenants. Although eviction processes have been halted temporarily, there is no guaranteed protection against eviction once this pandemic ends. Residents are encouraged to pay their rent if possible. If you are experiencing extreme financial difficulty, Michalakes’s advice is to communicate with your landlord in order to reach some sort of payment agreement.
If you or someone you know is seeking legal advice in regards to housing, they are encouraged to call Greater Boston Legal Services Housing Division at 617-603-1807.
Other topics included rental relief assistance programs at the federal, state, and city levels, mortgage relief resources for landlords, small business information, and information for those who are homeless. For more information, watch Councilor Edwards’ complete update on her Facebook page at facebook.com/lydiaforboston or by calling her office at (617) 635-3200. Additional information on relief funds and Boston’s developing response to COVID-19 are posted at boston.gov/coronavirus.
Councilor Edwards is having another virtual coffee hour this Saturday, May 2, at 10 a.m. on her Facebook to discuss issues related to unemployment. She will be accompanied by workers’ rights attorneys from Greater Boston Legal Services to help answer questions from the Facebook Live audience.