Sweeping measures by CHA, agencies, courts in virus emergency

Here's what's happening

MONDAY, MARCH 16— The Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) has closed its headquarters office to the public and ordered all its building managers to stop meeting with residents in person. Because of the coronavirus emergency, “walk-in hours” are on hold for at least the next thirty days. Recerts and other business will have to be done through telephone or internet connections.

Notices on the entry doors warn tenants that they may not  enter managers’ offices. Some site managers have had notices delivered to residents door-to-door, others have just posted in hallways. Managers and maintenance staff will continue to report for work but only two personnel will be posted at each site.

The protocol for the CHA Operations Department—in charge of site management—prohibits “social gatherings in common areas ….No booking of the community room is allowed for any gatherings.” Inspections of occupied apartments are suspended for the time being. Maintenance staff will respond to “urgent work orders only.”

The Operations protocol pays special attention to properties occupied by elder and disabled people: "We will be hiring Smart Cleaning to conduct a weekly deep clean to disinfect the common areas at our high-risk sites." Staff is instructed to “not schedule any relocation moves, transfers, or new move-ins to or from any high-risk sites. High-risk sites include all elderly/disabled buildings and similar style family buildings (Roosevelt Towers Midrise, Jefferson Park Midrise, and Temple Place)."

The protocol for the Leased Housing Department—which administers vouchers—is similar to the Operations protocol in most ways. But with regards to inspections by Mccright, Leased Housing Director Hannah (Lodi) Bolcome says, “All annual/biennial inspections (and re-inspections related to annuals/biennials) are suspended until further notice. At this point we/they are still processing initial inspections for applicants who are attempting to lease-up or move, as long as the unit being inspected is vacant. They are also still processing emergency/tenant complaint inspections (at tenant request). In the case of a tenant complaint inspection, they will ask a series of questions prior to entering the unit, to determine if there is a risk of exposure, will stand six feet back from the doorway while completing these questions, and will not require the tenant to sign the tablet screen upon completion of the inspection. If not able to complete the inspection and/or if it is determined that there is risk of exposure then it will be marked as 'inconclusive' and rescheduled for a later date.”

Alliance of Cambridge Tenants (ACT)

ACT will continue to operate office hours as usual through Thursday, March 19. However any upcoming events, including Citywide Tenant Leaders meetings, are cancelled or postponed. We will continue to assist tenants as best we can by email but will probably not be able to keep up to date with phone messages.

Mass. Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD)

On March 10, DHCD issued guidance for local housing authorities. It was mostly about posting and distributing information about ways for residents to protect themselves and neighbors from contagion. The agency recommended that housing authorities “consider communicating through email and phone calls as well as posting in common areas, and ensure that materials are appropriately translated.” They should inform tenants “that coronavirus-related treatment will NOT be subject to deductibles or copays for insurance carriers in Massachusetts – no-one should avoid medical care for suspected coronavirus symptoms because of cost concerns.” 

On March 13, DHCD sent out a second notice  “to remind all local housing authorities of the procedures for lowering tenant rent due to a decrease in gross monthly income (either due to a decrease in income or an increase in deductions). We all ask that housing authorities remind all affected tenants of these procedures.” 

Just-A-Start (JAS)

Elizabeth Winston, Program Manager of Housing and Mediation Services, says “our offices are generally operating remotely (we were never a walk in agency anyway) and we are not meeting face to face with any clients at this time. Contact can be via my email <elizabethwinston@justastart.org> for landlord/tenant services, but right now they are limited to coaching on the phone or via email."

HRI (Homeowners Rehab)

[update TUESDAY 3/17:] In a letter to residents, HRI writes: "Our management companies have increased the frequency of cleaning throughout common areas of the building. In buildings with community gathering areas, we have closed all community space including community rooms and community bathrooms."

CEOC

Most CEOC activities are suspended until further notice. Decision is pending on the agency's popular tax counseling service. Food pantry will not be operating after Monday March 16. For updates see https://ceoccambridge.org/

Emergency Food / Pantries

[UPDATE FRIDAY 3/20] For the most part, the food pantries have been replaced by Cambridge Community Food Line (617-349-9155), a food delivery program for residents at high risk of food insecurity. This is a joint project of the City and Food For Free, superseding the original plan to make regular deliveries to affordable housing sites including those managed by Cambridge Housing Authority. Breakfast and lunch meals were to be made available at several public schools, generally one in each neighborhood. For updates call the Food Line number 617-349-9155.

[UPDATE MONDAY 3/23] Local groups are helping people to connect. The 808-12 Memorial Drive Tenants Association has added about 45 residents to the food for free weekly grocery delivery so far. Any Cambridge households who want to be added can reach out to Rebecca Leaman <rebecca@titanmoving.com> They don’t have to be a resident of 808 or 812. 

Evictions

Summary process (eviction), small claims, probable cause hearings, and criminal matters—as a rule, none of these will be scheduled to happen before Tuesday April 21. However a landlord, for example, can still try to get an earlier date for good cause. These temporary changes are included two “standing orders” for the District Courts and Housing Courts. As Susan Hegel of CASLS cautions, “Both orders may be rescinded, extended, (or) changed.” [update TUESDAY 3/17: In a new SJC order, the Commonwealth's high court clarifies how the normal standard for "speedy trial" is being modified in the current emergency,]

Meanwhile the State of New York simply states: after March 16 "All eviction proceedings and pending eviction orders shall be suspended statewide until further notice." 

Agreements for Judgement

The standing orders provide that for the time being, when an out-of-court agreement for judgment is filed and all parties are represented by counsel, the agreement will be accepted and approved by a housing specialist, clerk, or judge. 

City Life and Rep. Connolly

All this official activity was spurred on by actions taken from the tenant side. Notably, on the morning of Thursday the 12th, City Life/Vida Urbana sponsored a rally at the Brooke Courthouse in Boston calling for a halt to all eviction proceedings. Rep. Mike Connolly filed a bill on Friday, HD.4935, “An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID19 Emergency,” with 32 co-sponsors.