Eviction filings occur at a higher frequency, per renter, in areas marked with a yellow circle.
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Is housing instability driven by discrimination?

LYNN — The city became one of the subjects of a new housing study released this week that demonstrates racial inequity in eviction filings across Massachusetts since the end of the state moratorium on eviction in October 2020. 

Homes for All Massachusetts, a grassroots housing-justice group, and Eric Robsky Huntley, a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), presented on Tuesday findings of a new study titled “Housing Justice Beyond the Emergency: An Analysis of Racial Inequity in Eviction Filings Across Massachusetts.” 

The study reveals that racial inequity is driving housing instability in cities throughout Massachusetts, while the country is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Eviction is a violent process that can uproot people from their neighborhoods and family supports, disrupt education and medical care and send people into a spiral of financial instability,” the report states. 

The study looked at eviction cases filed in the state’s six housing-court divisions between Oct. 18, 2020, when the state eviction and foreclosure moratorium ended, and Oct. 28, 2021. 

More than 33,000 new eviction cases have been filed across Massachusetts since October 2020. The report shows that higher rates of eviction filings took place in communities of color, especially in Black and Latinx neighborhoods. 

Landlords filed nearly twice as many eviction filings per renter in predominantly non-white neighborhoods than in predominantly-white neighborhoods, Robsky Huntley said. 

There were 441 eviction cases filed in Lynn between Oct. 18, 2020 and Oct. 28, 2021. Eviction filings in non-white neighborhoods were 1.22 times higher than in predominantly-white neighborhoods in Lynn. 

Another finding of the report is that large, corporate, so-called “absentee,” landlords are strongly associated with higher eviction-filing rates in all filing categories, including eviction for non-payment, no-fault and for-cause. The presence of live-in landlords equated to lower non-payment and for-cause filing rates, which means that local control of property contributes to housing stability, the report concluded. 

The report is based only on formal filings, however, informal eviction filings constitute the majority of evictions as shown by other studies, Robsky Huntley said. 

“This is a statewide problem; this is not confined to any single municipality,” said Robsky Huntley. “It can be helped by giving cities the ability to take strong local action. This requires a strong state commitment to housing justice.” 

Ramón Cruz, a Lynn resident of 33 years, spoke about his experience with a large commercial landlord and the threat of eviction at the online presentation of the report. 

“The pandemic for me was devastating,” said Cruz, who is 71 and suffers from prostate cancer and heart and blood pressure issues. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Massachusetts, his son and nephew could not help him financially anymore, and Cruz, who lives on Ocean Street, tried every possible way to continue paying his rent. He worked as a taxi driver, asked for loans from friends, sustained himself on food donated by a nonprofit organization from Monday to Friday and even pawned his wedding ring. 

The landlord didn’t want to wait for Cruz to apply for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, he said. The landlord harassed Cruz, according to the former tenant, sending him letters telling to move out in 14 days, blocking the entrance to his apartment and asking how he was going to pay in March since RAFT paid his rent only until the end of February. 

Cruz said he felt helpless, desperate and suicidal. 

“I haven’t been able to go back to normal,” Cruz said. 

Isaac Simon Hodes, an organizer with Lynn United for Change, a community group that fights for social and economic justice and the human right to housing and is a part of Homes for All Massachusetts, said that his organization is trying to help Cruz, whose ongoing eviction case is pending in court, with access to rental assistance and legal support. 

Hodes said his organization is working on pushing the state government to close loopholes in the pandemic-era eviction protections.

“It’s very much possible for landlords to refuse to provide required documents and essentially refuse to participate in the rental-assistance programs,” Hodes said.

Lynn United for Change would like landlords to be required to attempt to work with rental-assistance programs before filing a court-eviction case based on someone being behind on rent. Pandemic-related eviction protections pause the progress of the court eviction but landlords still can file a case with a court, which leaves a mark on the renter’s housing history, can make it more difficult for them to find housing in the future and damage their credit, Hodes said. 

“We need priority on the needs of people and communities rather than the profits of corporate landlords. We needed massive investment in high-quality social housing,” said Hodes. 

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