End of Eviction Moratorium Could Worsen Pandemic in Boston, Walsh Says

Walsh said there was an urgent need to provide tenants with more information about their rights

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Friday said his administration would move to protect renters ahead of the end of Massachusetts' moratorium on evictions later this month, saying a surge of evictions could dramatically worsen the pandemic in the city.

The moratorium, put in place earlier this year to assist renters hit hard by the pandemic, is set to expire on Oct. 17.

In a press conference, Walsh said a flurry of evictions could lead to more COVID-19 cases as people scramble to find housing. He added such a situation would disproportionately impact communities of color.

"We need to continue to come together as a city and a state to protect these harms and to protect people's public health," he said.

Walsh noted that the Boston Housing Authority's moratorium on evictions extends to the end of the year, calling the BHA "our largest landlord for low-income families in the city."

The city has also created a rental relief fund, which Walsh said has held 900 families pay rent do far, adding the city was planning to "do more with this resource."

He said he had been working with lawmakers on "Right to Council" legislation, which would provide families impacted by the pandemic legal representation in eviction proceedings.

The mayor said there was an urgent need to deliver information and resources to help tenants understand their rights.

"We have to get information to the people who need it the most," he said.

Walsh announced he would file an ordinance with the City Council on Monday requiring landlords sending a "notice to quit" -- the first step landlords must take in order to evict someone -- must also provide information about tenants' rights.

That information would need to be provided in multiple languages and include resources aimed at assisting tenants.

The remarks came hours after President Donald Trump announced he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19.

During the press conference, Walsh wished the first couple a "speedy recovery" but stressed their diagnoses showed anyone can contract the virus.

“It’s affecting every community and everyone is certainly vulnerable to the virus,” he said, urging residents to continue to practice social distancing amid the pandemic.

Earlier in the day, Walsh urged residents to stay vigilant over the weekend and take measures to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Trump was experiencing “mild symptoms" of COVID-19 after revealing Friday that he and the first lady had tested positive, a stunning announcement that plunges the country deeper into uncertainty a month before the presidential election.

Despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic, Walsh said it was important for people to support each other.

He said church in Robinson County, Kentucky had sent him a number of hand-sewn masks they wanted to be distributed to Bostonians.

Walsh said: "I want you to know, the people of Boston thank you. We will get these masks to people who need them the most. You are certainly in our thoughts and prayers as well."

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh shared a story on Friday on how a package from a woman in Kentucky is a glimmer of positivity during this tough time.

Walsh's remarks came after Boston moved into the highest-risk -- or red -- category on the state's coronavirus risk map for the first time Wednesday.

The city had 8.5 cases per 100,000 residents on Massachusetts' COVID-19 risk map. Because of the change in categorization, the city will not enter the second step of Phase 3 of Massachusetts' reopening plan, Walsh said Wednesday.

"Being in the red category is something we need to take extremely seriously here in Boston," the mayor said at his Wednesday coronavirus briefing. "It's not unexpected and it's based only on one data point. We've made incredible progress in the last few months and we still have the ability to continue that progress."

Boston Public School officials have said they spent the summer upgrading buildings and classrooms, replacing nearly 300 windows and more than 10,000 air filters. There are a number of health and safety measures in place, including coronavirus symptom screenings, limited class sizes and a moratorium on visitors.

The positivity rate for coronavirus testing in Boston remains under 4%, but any increase in that metric would force the district to go back to remote learning full-time.

Effective Monday, lower-risk communities in Massachusetts will be able to move to Step 2 of Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan, which allows indoor and outdoor recreation businesses to reopen, expands the size of outdoor gatherings at event venues to 100 people and allows indoor and outdoor performance venues to open up to 50% capacity.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that the state will move forward with the second step of Phase 3 of its reopening on Monday, which includes indoor and outdoor recreation businesses. But Walsh said given the rise in cases in Boston, the city will not be moving forward with the latest step in the reopening of the economy.

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