April 1 looms large on the horizon as rent payments come due for those now without a job

Some of the most vulnerable workers reside in Chelsea, and they are known as day laborers.

Their earnings, usually cash on the spot every day, have evaporated quickly during the shutdown in response to COVID-19, but many are looking at the calendar and seeing April 1 as day where many unknowns will come about. That day will be the first day that rent is due for many people that suddenly lost jobs and wages over the past month.

Sylvia Ramirez of the Chelsea Collaborative said the day laborers in Chelsea will be some of the hardest hit early on by the shutdown of most of the industries the work in.

“There are three sisters we work with and they are all married and all live in the same building,” she said. “They are all day-laborers and they no longer have any income – all of them. They are very tight knit, but they’re all in the same situation without a job and having to all pay rent to the same landlord very soon. It’s a really tragic thing that is about to happen. Think about how the dominoes line up there and what happens to all of them if they fall.”

That is precisely what City and state government are looking into this week in anticipation of rent and mortgage payments coming due at the first of the month.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said there is hope as he has had very positive negotiations with many of the large landlords in Chelsea about making alternate plans for collecting rent.

“We have had some good meetings with some large landlords about forgoing rent for April or collecting half of the rent for April or allowing people to enter into payments plans with them for April and May,” he said. “We’ve had a remarkably good response from landlords and they are to willing to be accommodating. It’s a work in progress, but there’s good news from the large landlords. We don’t have the ability to force landlords to do anything, but we were advocating the need and the need for them to step up as good corporate citizens.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a package to help keep vulnerable families in their homes, preserve the health and safety of low-income renters and homeowners, and prevent homelessness due to reduced or lost income.

These proposed steps include the following:

•DHCD is moving to temporarily suspend terminations of federal and state rental vouchers under their purview.

•MassHousing is transferring $5 million to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for a COVID-19 Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) fund to assist families facing rent insecurity.

•The Division of Banks (DOB) has issued new guidance to Massachusetts financial institutions and lenders urging them to provide relief for borrowers and will advocate for a 60-day stay on behalf of all homeowners facing imminent foreclosure on their homes.

•DHCD is issuing guidance recommending that all owners of state aided low-income housing, including Local Housing Authorities and private owners, suspend both pending non-essential evictions and the filing of any new non-essential evictions.

•Affordable housing operators are urged to suspend non-essential evictions for loss of income or employment circumstances resulting in a tenant’s inability to make rent.

This guidance urges operators to establish reasonable payment plans, notify Section 8 or public housing residents about interim income recertification to adjust rent payments, and to consider offering relief funding for residents ineligible for income reassessment.

On a legal note, Ambrosino said due to the state courts being closed, there was technically no way for anyone to begin eviction proceedings in court.

Housing Court and District Court are usually the places that evictions are heard, and both are closed until April 21 except for emergency actions – meaning a legal evictions cannot even really take place.

“That certainly gives people time,” he said. “Evictions tend to take 30 to 60 days.”

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