Katie Forde from Boston’s Office of Housing Stability (OHS) gave a presentation about resources and tenants rights at the February North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) meeting.
Part of the Department of Neighborhood Development, the OHS was created in 2016. Its primary goals are to:
- Assist Bostonians with identifying and accessing rental housing they can afford,
- Work with landlords and tenants to understand their rights and responsibilities,
- Guide Bostonians through housing emergencies and try to prevent individuals and families from falling into homelessness.
(1:59) Forde spoke about tenant rights when a building is sold. She explained that, even if the owner changes, a tenant’s lease is still with that unit and is still valid. The OHS recently preserved 11 tenancies on Garden Court in the North End. The tenants in that building received a letter on Christmas Eve that their rent was going to increase by 35% and if they didn’t comply they had to move out by February 1st. OHS was able to negotiate a 6-month stay so these individuals could have time to find new housing.
(2:44) According to Forde, the state offers up to $4,000 in funding to assist those facing a housing emergency to move out of their apartments or pay back rent. The City of Boston offers up to an additional $2,000 in flex funding that can be used for utility bills, broker’s fees, etc. The department also offers “Metrolist,” a database tool for affordable housing options, lotteries, and resales in Boston.
The OHS recently launched a housing navigation program. Currently in eviction proceedings, approximately 78% of landlords have representation with only 7% of tenants holding representation. In order to assist tenants, the department has launched this program with a representative available on the third floor of housing court every Thursday to walk a tenant through the progress of their eviction status.
The office also offers dispute resolution to tenants and landlords by providing mediation services at a low to no-cost.
(4:14) The OHS also supports policies, in particular Forde spoke about the following pending policies:
- right to council in eviction cases,
- an act to protect elderly tenants,
- getting tenants the right to purchase a building when it’s sold.
(5:03) Forde emphasized the importance of reading leases and other housing documents before signing them. She spoke about common laws many tenants may not be aware of. Landlords are not allowed to change an application fee, a credit check fee, or a pet fee. Landlords do have the right to enter your apartment but they must provide tenants reasonable notice.
Questions from the audience begin at 6:11 in the video.
(6:45) One attendee asked about broker fees. The city of New York recently banned broker fees and the OHS will be involved in a working group that will focus on this for the city of Boston.
(10:10) Another audience member asked about trends in housing crises and if the OHS is involved in any legislation. Forde provided statics from OHS’s work in 2019. Last year there was an increase in $150,000 in flex funds and this year OHS is going to ask for an additional $300,000 because they see many displacements happening. At a federal level, starting July 1st, 15,000 individuals in Massachusetts are going to be kicked off the food stamp program. Forde explained people often have to choose between food and housing, so this federal move will likely result in an upward trend of housing instability.
(15:05) An attendee asked about protections for condo conversions. Currently you’re protected for a year when a condo is converted. Councilor Flynn has a pending hearing to make this the same thing for eviction preventions.
(16:40) A question about OHS’s relationship with Inspectional Services Department (ISD) was raised. Forde explained OHS works with ISD all the time. When tenants say they’ve been withholding rent for issues such as a mouse infestation, OHS tells them to call ISD to obtain an inspection report.
Forde also presented at the February North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council meeting. Watch that presentation here.