COVID-19 and its effects have filled this year with challenges and uncertainty for Massachusetts veterans and their families. According to analysis of U.S. Census data by the National Equity Atlas, nearly 6.4 million households across the country have fallen behind on rent during the COVID-19 crisis as of July 5. More than 100,000 of those households are in Massachusetts. For these families, the anticipated end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium on July 31 was cause for even more challenges and uncertainty.
However, the CDC announced on August 3 that it is extending federal protection from evictions for two months in most parts of the country, including all counties in Massachusetts except Hampshire County. (The pause in evictions applies in counties where the CDC says there is “substantial” or “high” levels of community transmission of COVID-19. Hampshire County had lower levels of COVID-19 transmission as of August 8, so the pause in evictions does not apply there today. That could change in the future if more people in Hampshire County test positive for COVID-19.)
The CDC says it is extending the pause in evictions in part because of the spread of the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, which is more contagious than earlier variants. The CDC’s new order will expire on October 3, 2021, unless the agency decides to extend or cancel it before then.
The CDC’s order means that if you live in a covered county and qualify based on your income, you cannot be evicted for failure to pay your full rent, as long as you make your “best effort” to pay as much as you can toward rent, including seeking government help if it is available.
If you meet these requirements, you should fill out the CDC’s declaration form and send it to your landlord. Be sure to write down the date you gave the declaration to your landlord and save any proof of delivery you have, like a certified mail receipt or an email you sent to your landlord with the declaration attached.
Additional federal relief for renters and the future of the eviction ban
On August 2, the White House announced the administration would take other new steps to protect tenants, including directing the Treasury Department to help state and local governments use COVID-19 emergency funds to prevent evictions. The Biden administration also asked state and local governments to extend their own eviction bans.
A White House spokesperson said that the Biden administration was not sure whether it had the legal power to extend federal protection from evictions unless Congress passed a law giving it that power. With Congress on summer break until September, it is unlikely that a new law to prevent evictions will pass this month.
President Biden said the CDC order pausing evictions will likely be challenged in court. A court might strike down the order, he said, because the court might decide the CDC does not have the power to stop evictions. The court might say that only Congress has that power.
President Biden said the time it takes a court to decide if the CDC order is valid will give federal and state governments “some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion [in emergency assistance] out to people who are in fact behind in rent and don’t have the money.”
The Massachusetts COVID Housing Equity Bill
Help for renters is available as part of the state and federal emergency responses to COVID-19. That help includes emergency funds that renters can use to catch up on rent and utility payments. However, many people are having trouble accessing it. In Massachusetts, only about 10 percent of applications for rental assistance between January and May 2021 were approved.
Here in Massachusetts, to help provide families the help they need, a coalition of grassroots housing justice groups is advocating for the COVID Housing Equity Bill. This bill is currently under debate in the Massachusetts State House as H.1434 and S.891. It would require landlords to give tenants the chance to apply for rental assistance before filing evictions in court. It would also pause evictions until the tenant’s application for rental assistance is approved or denied, and would stop all no-fault evictions until March 2022. The bill would also pause residential foreclosures and require the state to take steps to ensure rental assistance funds are distributed equitably.
Help is available
If you need help to keep your housing during this challenging and uncertain time, there are free resources available to you:
- You can apply for help with rent or mortgage payments.
- You can also seek free legal help from the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project.
- You can read more about your rights, explained for non-lawyers by Mass Legal Help.
Veterans and families of those who have served may also be able to access help through a safety net program called Chapter 115. The Chapter 115 program provides monthly payments to eligible veterans and their families. The program also offers one-time emergency payments, which can be used to catch up on rent and utilities.
The Veterans Legal Clinic strongly encourages veterans and their eligible dependents to apply for Chapter 115 benefits if they are struggling financially and are concerned about losing their housing. These benefits recognize the service that veterans have provided to our state and our country, and are also an important source of support for the families of those who have served.
Before you apply for benefits, you can use our online calculator to find out whether you might be eligible to receive Chapter 115 benefits and about how much your monthly benefit might be:
For more information and for help completing your application, please reach out to your Veterans’ Service Officer (VSO). Each town and district in Massachusetts has a VSO who can help veterans and their families learn about and access benefits and other resources. Click here to find your VSO.
If DVS denies your application or your benefits are cut off, you have a right to appeal. If you want to request legal help with an appeal or have questions about Chapter 115 rules, please contact the Veterans Legal Clinic intake line at 617-390-2525 or by email at email@example.com