Protesters mobilize for housing stability bill in front of Boston’s Eastern Housing Court

Maya Homan, Reporter

Demonstrators from City Life/Vida Urbana gathered in front of Boston’s Eastern Housing Court, blocking the entrance to demand that Massachusetts legislators pass Bill H.5018, which would guarantee housing stability for renters in Massachusetts at risk of eviction due to COVID-19. 

The state’s original eviction moratorium expired on Oct. 17, and is expected to lead to a wave of evictions across Massachusetts, raising concerns about public health issues and voting rights.

“[Housing Bill 5018] would guarantee for a year after the state of emergency ends that there are no evictions and no foreclosures, as well as other protections for homeowners and renters,” said Brendan Hart, a UMass Amherst student and intern at City Life/Vida Urbana. “We need to do this now, because during the midst of a pandemic people cannot be put out on the street, it will result in death and people will be hurt by it.”

Protesters locking arms to block the entrance to Boston’s Eastern Housing Court
Protesters locking arms to block the entrance to Boston’s Eastern Housing Court. (Photo: Maya Homan)

On Oct. 12, just days before the Massachusetts eviction moratorium expired, Governor Charlie Baker released the Eviction Diversion Initiative, which would commit $100 million for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, $3.8 million to the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) and $12.3 million for legal fees and mediation services for both tenants and landlords, among other things.

However, the plan has been criticized for failing to halt evictions amid the pandemic, and residents have reported being unable to access services from RAFT.

“Every week we have a weekly meeting for City Life, and there are dozens of people each week who are being affected and have ongoing court cases,” Hart said.

Protesters in front of the Boston’s Eastern Housing Court.
Protesters in front of the Boston’s Eastern Housing Court. (Photo: Maya Homan)

“These people have applied for RAFT, the housing program Charlie Baker has just added money to. They’ve been getting letters since April saying they’re gonna get money, and they’ve gotten no money,” Hart said. “We hear people every week say they don’t have correct legal representation, or that they’ve been told to leave without a court date. These are the people who we’re trying to protect.”

At the protest, demonstrators gathered in front of the courthouse , singing Mavis Staples’ “We Shall Not Be Moved” and giving speeches in both English and Spanish. Several protesters lined up at the courthouse doors, locking their arms in a human chain to prevent people from entering or exiting the building. 

Speakers encouraged those who were facing evictions due to COVID-19 to have their stories recorded by City Life/Vida Urbana.

“130,000 households are at risk of eviction this October,” said Gabriela Cartagena, who works as an East Boston/North Side organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana. “That number is empty. It means nothing to our legislators. That number means nothing unless we get 130 stories and faces to back up that number.”

Protester holding a sign "people over profit"
Protester holding a sign “people over profit” (Photo: Maya Homan)

Though not every person who attended the protest was personally impacted by the end of the eviction moratorium, most demonstrators felt that Massachusetts legislators were not doing enough to help tenants who were facing evictions.

“I cannot support what’s going on now,” said Claire Gosselin, a retired librarian and volunteer with City Life/Vida Urbana. “We really should have a housing guarantee, particularly in this time of the pandemic. It’s ridiculous to be jacking up evictions.”

Though Gosselin says her housing is currently stable, members of her family have faced homelessness in the past, which has shaped her views on housing as a right rather than a privilege. 

“We need to make it more visible what is going on, and we’ve got to get out of our comfort zone,” she said. “Even though some of us are not threatened with evictions, we are going to be standing in solidarity and ready to take action.”


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