As the coronavirus continues to impact the daily lives of Boston residents, thousands are left experiencing a complete loss or severe reduction of income. The City Council tackled this financial uncertainty during their weekly meeting by hosting a conversation about how the City can offer relief to those suffering during this unprecedented public health crisis.
On March 15, 2020, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a public health emergency in the City of Boston. Since then, the number of COVID-19 cases continue to mount as local hospitals brace against a potential peak that would leave them at capacity. In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Governor Baker issued a stay-at-home advisory and extended the closure of non-essential businesses through to May 4th, 2020.
As coronavirus guidelines become more strict and residents are increasingly urged to remain indoors, many Bostonians are feeling the economic impacts that come with social distancing and non-essential business closures. According to a report released by the Department of Labor, Massachusetts was among those with the highest increase of unemployment claims for the week ending in March 21st, 2020.
The majority of the City Council recently voted to support a rent and mortgage moratorium. However, the move only serves to guide state legislation currently being reviewed in the State House. The current bill only focuses on a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic. This has prompted At-Large Councilor Michelle Wu to explore rent relief options for commercial and residential tenants in properties owned by the City of Boston and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
“We don’t have the authority at the City level to pass blanket moratoriums and we have gone on record, as of last week, sending that feedback up to the State House. What we do have the authority to accomplish at the City level is to issue rent relief for City-owned and BPDA-owned buildings,” stated Wu on Wednesday afternoon.
Councilor Lydia Edwards (District 1) offered her support of the proposal, adding that it was important for the City of Boston to demonstrate leadership to landlords who have been asked to enact similar protocols in regards to rent relief. However, she cautioned on the potential effects the proposal could have on the BPDA whose revenue would be impacted.
Councilor Ed Flynn (District 2) expressed concern over the small business owners at Faneuil Hall, which is BPDA-owned, who are struggling to remain open due to rent demands. At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty reiterated the need for a conversation regarding rent relief, but urged businesses who are able to pay rent to continue doing so in order for the City to assist those who need the relief the most.