Government funds have helped people in western Massachusetts stay in their homes as jobs were lost and income shrank during the pandemic.
Last June, the city of Springfield announced a $2 million emergency housing fund to help people pay rent, mortgage, and utility bills. All but $140,000 has now been claimed.
The state has put millions into housing assistance. Additionally, Springfield last year awarded $5 million to four social service agencies to assist the homeless. Most of that money has not yet been spent, according to Gerry McCafferty, the city’s Director of Housing.
"My sense is that it is not that there is not enough money," said McCafferty. "One of the issues is people knowing about whether the money is there and being to access it because there is sometimes delays in accessing it."
At a hearing of the Springfield City Council’s COVID-19 Response Committee Tuesday, city officials said they would look to direct even more money toward housing services -- an announcement applauded by the committee chairman, City Councilor Jesse Lederman.
"This is an issue the City Council and members of the community have been paying close attention to from the beginning of the pandemic," said Lederman.
Thanks to tens of millions of dollars from the federal government used for emergency housing assistance programs as well as efforts to mediate landlord-tenant disputes, the mass evictions that were feared when the state’s eviction moratorium ended last October have not occurred.
Since the end of the moratorium, Springfield landlords have filed 504 eviction cases in Housing Court with 98 evictions being ordered, according to McCafferty.
Way Finders, the Springfield-based nonprofit that administers housing assistance programs in Hampden and Hampshire counties, receives 60-70 calls per day from people looking for help paying rent, said Way Finders President and CEO Keith Fairey.
He told the committee that over 3,000 applications for rental assistance are currently being processed.
It typically takes 35-38 days to process an application, according to Fairey.
"That is significantly down from where we were which was somewhere between 8-10 weeks," he said.
More staff has been brought on at Way Finders to process applications and there is currenlty no backlog, said Fairey.
Eviction proceedings are put on hold once someone makes an application for assistance, said Jane Edmonstone of Community Legal Aid.
"There have been many times that Way Finders and legal defense have come rushing in as the moving trucks were pulling up and able to walk that back," she said.
Another speaker at the hearing, Rose Webster-Smith, the lead community organizer for the housing advocacy group Springfield No One Leaves, said more outreach is needed to let people know about the help that is available.
"Many homeowners don't know that they can apply and are eligible ( for mortgage assistance)," said Webster-Smith.
She said many people need access to the technology required to attend Housing Court hearings remotely or they’ll risk a default eviction.