BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker has extended a statewide ban on housing evictions and foreclosures by another 60 days, throwing a lifeline to renters and homeowners who are struggling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
Baker said the moratorium, originally set to expire Aug. 17, has helped people affected by the pandemic to remain in their homes during the state of emergency.
"I am confident that this action, coupled with federal assistance, helped to slow the spread of COVID-19 while minimizing the impact to date on vulnerable families and on our housing market," Baker wrote in a letter extending the protections.
He said the measure is still needed "as businesses cautiously reopen, more people return to work, and we collectively move toward a new normal."
Baker faced a growing chorus of calls to extend the moratorium from housing advocates and state leaders, including Attorney General Maura Healey.
Lew Finfer, co-director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, an advocacy group, welcomed the move. He said so many people are still out of work and struggling financially that the state needs to keep the protections on the books.
The move comes as lawmakers consider a bill to extend the ban by another year. A proposal backed by nearly 90 Democrats — roughly half of the Legislature — would keep the temporary ban on evictions in place for at least 12 months after the current state of emergency is lifted.
Lawmakers are running out of time to approve the legislation, which if it passed now could be subject to a "pocket veto" by the governor, wherein Baker allows it to die without his signature.
Doug Quattrochi, executive director of the trade group Mass Landlords, said Baker's decision to extend the moratorium places a "hardship" on many property owners. His group has asked lawmakers to authorize lease surety bonds, which landlords could use to cover their costs.
Baker signed legislation in late April putting the brakes on evictions and home foreclosures until after the pandemic subsides.
The moratorium doesn't exempt tenants or homeowners from paying rents or mortgages, nor does it forgive what they owe. It does prevent them from being evicted or paying late penalties, for those who can demonstrate their inability to pay is due to a hardship caused by the pandemic.
Baker said Tuesday he knows extending the moratorium will affect small-scale landlords who depend on rental income. He said the state is "strongly" encouraging renters and homeowners to continue making payments "to the extent they are able while the moratoria remain in place."
The Baker administration has also created a new $20 million rental and mortgage assistance program.
Data from the Housing Court shows more than 20,000 eviction cases would have been been filed by landlords after the moratorium expired next month.
Baker said Tuesday that his administration will work with the courts "to ensure that when evictions proceedings resume, there are programs in place to help tenants pay their rent and avoid eviction."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.