A group of 45 individuals and organizations signed on to a desperate letter to Gov. Charlie Baker for a variety of initiatives to help Chelsea stem the tide of the potential foreclosure and eviction “tidal wave,” and to provide the City $9 million in direct funding to help meet the variety of food and basic needs still compounding residents hit hard by COVID-19 directly or indirectly.
“We are writing to express our deep concern about the looming crisis of displacement and homelessness in Chelsea, and to ask you to take decisive and swift action to help avert disaster for a community that has already shouldered the greatest burden of the most significant crisis facing this state in the last century,” read the letter, delivered on Wednesday to Baker. “The support you gave Chelsea to combat food insecurity, increased COVID-19 testing and additional resources during the height of infections was invaluable. Now, as thousands of our residents face homelessness, we are asking for your support once more both in legislative action and direct funding.”
One of the greatest concerns right now is the growing worry about what will happen when evictions and foreclosures are opened up again in the court system on Oct. 17. The deadline for that was recently moved back to Oct. 17, but many believe that the overdue rent that has built up, and the impossible financial situation faced by many small landlords who have not collected rent for months – will lead to a financial meltdown for the City’s housing situations and property tax base. This is a concern regionally for Greater Boston, but nowhere are the worries more pronounced than in Chelsea.
“We appreciate the extension of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until October 17 but, unless it is accompanied by decisive and immediate action to address rent debt, it is only delaying a wave of evictions that will push tens of thousands of Chelsea residents into homelessness,” read the letter. “As with the disproportionate impacts of the virus itself, those most impacted by eviction and foreclosure will be Black, brown, immigrant and non-English speaking residents. Many of our community members put their lives on the line working throughout the pandemic as essential workers, supporting the regional economy and allowing others to shelter in place while placing themselves and their families at risk.”
The letter cites that the One Chelsea Fund collected $1.2 million in donations and gave out $250 checks to families, but still has a waiting list of 1,600 households. Meanwhile, the City established an Emergency Rental Assistance Program last spring, but was only able to service 19 percent of the 1,559 households that qualified and applied. Most of those who applied had more than three months in back rent that had built up.
“The need is immense, and we cannot expect donations or city funds to continue at these levels moving forward,” read the letter. “Cities like Chelsea, which have been hit so hard by the impacts of the pandemic, must get extra support from the state proportional to the impact.”
The major ask is for those signing the letter include allocating $9 million in direct relief to Chelsea to address the unmet housing needs that were identified in the City Rental Relief Program.
Also, they are calling for the governor to work quickly to pass a bill in the legislature that would cancel all COVID-19 evictions and foreclosures for 12 months beyond Oct. 17. The bill would also provide tenant protections, enact a rent freeze with the exception of subsidized rents, and stabilize working class homeowners and small property owners/affordable housing providers by creating the COVID-19 Housing Stabilization and Recovery Act.
The letter also asks for additional monies to go to the already-expanded RAFT program, which is being administered at the CONNECT Offices on Gerrish Avenue. Also, they ask for support of Sen. Sal DiDomenico’s bill that calls for the right to counsel for tenants and owner-occupants. The final ask if to extend the utility shut-off moratorium and waive reconnection fees.
“We have a real opportunity to create and pass policies and budget priorities that will establish a new normal that leaves no one behind,” concluded the letter. “Doing nothing now will cause massive disruption and harm to our residents’ lives. We must act swiftly today. We look forward to your partnership on this critical matter.”
The letter was signed by Sen. Sal DiDomenico, State Rep. Dan Ryan, Councillors Roy Avellaneda, Judith Garcia, Calvin T. Brown, Enio López, Giovanni A. Recupero, Leo Robinson, Yamir Rodríguez, Melinda Vega, Damali Vidot and Naomi Zabot.
Chelsea School Committee members:
Kelly Garcia, Chair
The Chelsea Community Preservation Committee
Affordable Housing Trust Fund members:
Gerrit De Young, Chair
The Chelsea Anti-Displacement Roundtable:
The Chelsea Collaborative
The Neighborhood Developers
The MGH Center for Community Health Improvement
City Life/ Vida Urbana
Greater Boston Legal Services
Allies and Supporters:
Bunker Hill Community College
Chelsea Black Community
Chelsea Community Connections
Chelsea Restoration Corp
First Congregational Church in Chelsea, UCC
Iglesia Cristiana Kairos de Dios
Metro Credit Union
New Life Christian Center
Our Lady of Grace Parish, Morning Star Catholic Collaborative
People’s A.M.E. Church Chelsea
Revival International Center
Saint Lukes/ San Lucas Episcopal Church