A key concern in Chelsea and surrounding communities since last November has been the lifting of the eviction moratorium and how that might affect thousands of residents and their housing situations, but initial statistics through Jan. 1 from the state Housing Court show Chelsea seems to be in a good position so far with a lower number of filed evictions for non-payment of rent.
It’s a piece of good news in what has been a huge worry for elected officials and advocates over the past several months, with many worrying that joblessness as a result of the pandemic could lead to massive numbers of people without homes. So far, that hasn’t come true in the official stats, to the relief of everyone.
In Housing Court, to begin an eviction process one must file a Summary Process Eviction for non-payment of rent. It is a standard process for most landlords and tenants, but it had been frozen during COVID-19 until last fall – when Housing Court opened back up for evictions in October.
While other locales have been swamped with such filings, Chelsea has had just 129 Summary Process Evictions filed for all of 2020. That was a little more than 10 per month and showed that the City has staved off the onslaught of filings that many expected. It’s not the case in other places like Worcester, Fall River and New Bedford.
Worcester led the state with 874 filings as of Jan. 1 for all of 2020. Springfield had 711, Fall River had 604, and Brockton had 315. All were well above Chelsea’s numbers.
Chelsea did have a lot in common with Everett and Revere, which also expected a lot of filings but so far have not had so many. Everett had 87 filings and Revere had 154 – all well-below what was expected and, like Chelsea, places where substantial resources were directed to stemming the tide.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he felt really good about the numbers and the resources the City has marshaled to keep evictions from happening in large numbers.
“It’s good news and I don’t have a specific explanation, but we have put a lot of resources and money to assist people,” he said. “We have helped residents fill out RAFT applications and our own rental assistance applications and program. We have the Chelsea Legal Aid Clinic and the Eviction Task force that intervene quickly. I’m hopeful all of these things are helping the situation. These statistics seem to be a positive trend.”
At the same time, he said statistics only tell the official story, and he has heard from advocates that many illegal evictions are happening that don’t show up on paper.
“I have no doubt that does occur and that’s why we set up the Chelsea Legal Aid Clinic – a place to call and get advice,” he said. “I agree that is a reality in these communities.”
City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson chairs the effort at the Chelsea Legal Services Housing Clinic – as it is officially known – and said it has helped avoid evictions before they happen in court.
“Chelsea has a unique approach to combating evictions and have armed our residents with different options,” she said. “The Chelsea Legal Services Housing Clinic is not only representing residents of all incomes in evictions, but also it is making sure they are connected with services within our community.
For example, she said tenants are referred to the City and other agencies for rent help through the state RAFT program and also referrals are made to housing agencies. The Clinic members right now are meeting residents twice a week at La Colaborativa to discuss their options. Meanwhile, Greater Boston Legal Services and the Volunteer Lawyers Project are also helping and representing residents that make it to court.
“There is a referral network in place,” she said. “Our Landlords are also doing their part by not pursuing evictions and working with the Clinic and the City.”
State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said keeping up the effort will be critical in the next few months, but he is encouraged to see that it appears the current efforts are succeeding in Everett and Chelsea.
“We have to continue working to ensure that we don’t have any evictions,” said Senator DiDomenico. “But, we can see that the work being done in our community through state and local partnerships has had positive outcomes for many residents. There is still much more work to be done and we will keep pushing to get resources to address our housing crisis.”
On the streets of Chelsea though – similar to Everett – there is another story and that’s the one that doesn’t appear on paper, as Ambrosino said.
La Colaborativa Director Gladys Vega said the two things that keep her up at night during the pandemic have been food insecurity and housing. Food has an easy answer she said; Getting resources and distributing them. Housing is much different in Chelsea, as there are so many unofficial and complex living situations. They aren’t the kind of situations that would show up on official court statistics.
“The numbers may show something, but the reality is totally different,” she said.
The organization has four staff members dedicated to housing, including Norieliz DeJesus. She said much of the problem is there are tenant subleases, and extended family situations, and other non-traditional living arrangements that disintegrate in the stress of COVID-19.
“There are a lot of people that sublease in the community and who out of fear abandon their homes before they get to court,” she said. “They often leave because they’re getting harassed by the landlord at times…Other tenants may be paying their rent, but they’re doing it because they’re borrowing money or they aren’t paying their bills and letting them skyrocket for heat and electricity. We’ve seen where landlords are using utilities to push tenants out. They control the switches and they turn off the lights or heat until they leave.
“It’s really hard to categorize the situations we see because there are so many dynamics, and they don’t show up on paper,” she continued.
She retold the story of a teen mother who was kicked out of her home by her mother, an eviction that wouldn’t show up on any statistics, but one that creates an emergency situation, nonetheless.
“Some family tenant situations aren’t showing up on paper because they’re coming from family members evicting other family members,” she said. “I have a young mother who is 18 with a baby and her mother told her to leave because she couldn’t find a job. She was on the street. We had to try to find her housing and a hotel for a few nights. That didn’t show up on court stats because it was within the family – in fact her mother.”
Many expect the numbers of filed evictions to increase in the coming months, but a nationwide rebound in the economy is also predicted for the second half of 2021 – leading many to believe at the City and state level that getting through the last two months and the next four could be enough to avert a housing disaster – at least on paper.
Communities/neighborhoods with high eviction filings for non-payment of rent (as of 1/1/21):
•Worcester – 874
•Springfield – 711
•Fall River – 604
•Dorchester – 505
•New Bedford – 496
•Lowell – 414
•Brockton – 315
•Framingham – 305
•Lynn – 286
•Lawrence – 250
•Revere – 154
•Chelsea – 129
•Cambridge – 116
•Everett – 87
•East Boston – 19
By County: (Top 3 counties)
•Middlesex County – 2,039 (803 since November)
•Suffolk County – 1,944 (576 since November)
•Worcester County – 1,735 (959 since November)