MassLandlords is evaluating a possible lawsuit to address problems with the COVID-19 emergency response for housing, focused on applications for rental assistance. Overall, Massachusetts seems to be leading the nation in reducing eviction filings and helping households. But broadly there seem to be three problems:
- Funding may be going out too slowly to help all of us in need:
- Overall, approximately half of all applications received to date have been closed out without being either approved or denied (tens of thousands of households);
- A majority of rental assistance funds remain unspent;
- Despite state assurances to the contrary, we do not see how we are on track to spend funds before funding is pulled back by the US Treasury; and
- Many households have already left the housing in which they developed the arrears, the safety net having been erected too slowly, and will carry their COVID-19 balances with them into the future.
- Landlords may not be treated following best practices, and our suggestions to the state have been minimized or implemented too slowly:
- Landlords of over 20 units have been blocked from helping their renters apply for rental assistance, with no justification;
- Landlords with discriminatory intent to refuse rental assistance have not been consistently warned or stopped under GL Chapter 151B Section 4, and indeed a recent email from the state seems to condone this behavior (a landlord may confirm "in writing that they choose not to participate in ERAP"; we take the position that this is illegal and that lack of enforcement of current law will result in the imposition of an even harsher eviction moratorium); and
- The state will soon begin paying renters directly if a landlord cannot be contacted or chooses unlawfully not to participate.
- Certain protected classes of renters may be unlawfully and systematically excluded from rental assistance, and the state or regional administrators seems not to be following best practice or the intent of current law:
- Renters are being asked to provide a social security number, even though alternative means of verifying income and preventing fraud exist; this may be having an unlawfully discriminatory disparate impact on the basis of national origin;
- Renters are being asked to provide a full listing of every household member, including those who do not earn anything (e.g., children), even though information on non-earners is not used; this may be having an unlawfully discriminatory disparate impact on the basis of family status; and
- Renters are being asked to complete a detailed narrative of their situation, including extensive file uploads, even though a written narrative and file uploads are not required by the regulations; this may be having an unlawfully discriminatory disparate impact on the basis of national origin (language) and disability (intellectual impairment).
In order to better understand whether and to what extent the above is true, we are asking you to provide information about your experience with rental assistance. All submissions will be anonymous unless we contact you to arrange otherwise. By submitting information in this form, you will not become a party to any litigation. The survey is worded as a sworn statement so that we may rely on your answers. If your case is required in our brief as an anecdote, we will follow up with you to get your permission before using your name in our brief.
If you prefer to submit multiple households in a spreadsheet, use this template and email a copy to email@example.com with the statement "The information attached is true and correct as of today. I submit this information with intent to sign digitally under the pains and penalties of perjury." Otherwise click the orange button to use our form.