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Baker-Polito Administration Launches Eviction Diversion Initiative

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BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration has launched a $171 million "Eviction Diversion Initiative" to keep tenants safely in their homes and to support the ongoing expenses of landlords once the commonwealth's pause of evictions and foreclosures expires on Saturday, Oct. 17. 
This strategy was developed by a cross-agency team assembled by the administration in coordination with the Massachusetts Trial Court to manage the end of the moratorium on Oct. 17 and reflects input from a broad range of stakeholders.
"The pandemic has created financial challenges for many individuals and families who are struggling with rent payments, and today we are pleased to announce a $171 million initiative to promote household stability, and provide more support for tenants and small landlords," said Gov. Charlie Baker  in a statement. 
On Tuesday, in answer to questions about extending the state moratorium, the governor said the conditions have changed since spring. 
"When we put this moratorium in place with the Legislature last spring, there was somewhere around 500,000 more people out of work than we have out of work today," he said at the COVID-19 update. "In addition to that, we do have resources that are available to help create stability for homeowners, renters and and landlords, especially for smaller landlords and for tenants who are both feeling incredibly uncertain about what's going to happen now — we felt it was important to work with the courts, with the housing community, with a lot of the folks in the legal service community and mediation community to put together a program that creates some degree of stability and certainty for a whole lot of people who basically have none of either if we let the thing continue."
The governor added that "the bigger issue was the longer the moratorium stayed in place, the deeper the hole would become that everybody would have to find a way out of. And the uncertainty and difficulty of continuing to let that problem fester, from our point of view, was the wrong move at this time."
There are still calls for the Legislature to step in and extend the moratorium. Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone says the governor's plan only covers 10 percent of those at risk. 
"We have 100,000 renters in danger losing their housing on 10/17 just as our COVID #'s are rising rapidly. You are the cavalry," he tweeted to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka. 
Residential Assistance for Families in Transition and Emergency Rent and Mortgage Assistance are state-funded programs that can provide eligible households funds that can be used to help retain their housing, obtain new housing, or otherwise avoid becoming homeless.
In order to ensure tenants are aware of available resources, the administration has kicked off a public information campaign, including a new option available to call the Massachusetts 2-1-1 information hotline, effective Tuesday, Oct. 13. Operators for Mass211 are trained to answer questions and connect residents to the agencies that administer RAFT and ERMA. An easier path to important information has also been launched on the state's website: This effort also includes outreach through social media, videos, webinars, and other mediums. All materials and messaging will be made available in multiple languages.
The application process for both programs have been streamlined and available amounts increased from $4,000 to $10,000 and applicant eligibility can be verified with data collected through MassHealth, the Department of Transitional Assistance, Department of Unemployment Assistance, and the Department of Revenue 
Landlords who own fewer than 20 units can apply directly for RAFT and ERMA, with consent from tenants.
New funding will also expand capacity at the nine regional Housing Consumer Education Centers to provide housing counseling and coordinate with community mediators, legal services, and caseworkers. Income eligible tenants and landlords will also be able to access legal representation and related services as they navigate the eviction process.
With the goal of bringing landlords and tenants together to avoid an eviction, the administration will invest in expanding access to mediation services. In coordination with the Trial Court, the administration is working to launch a new Community Mediation program that will be available prior to a court filing, and supplement court-provided mediation that is generally available after a filing has been made. The Administration will also provide funding to the Trial Courts to support bringing back recall judges to help handle caseload once the moratorium ends and to add additional housing specialists to help mediate agreements. Additionally, the existing Tenancy Preservation Program will be expanded to serve a broader population of vulnerable households.
When the state moratorium expires, a moratorium established by the U.S. Center for Disease Prevention and Control will become effective in Massachusetts. Through December, the CDC moratorium will prevent evictions for non-payment for qualified tenants who submit a written declaration to their landlord. Courts will accept filings and process cases, and may enter judgments but will not issue an order of execution (the court order that allows a landlord to evict a tenant) until after the expiration of the CDC order. Protection is limited to households who meet certain income and vulnerability criteria. Declaration may be found here.
People in need of assistance can call 211, visit the frequently asked questions website here, and see the fact sheet here. 

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Pittsfield Schools Transition to Hybrid Learning with Caution

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield students are returning to their physical classrooms for a full week for the first time since November.
Interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis on outlined the ways that the school community will be protected from COVID-19 to the School Committee on Wednesday.
"Amazingly enough, we're 17 days away from, I'll use the term 'anniversary' although I don't think it's anything to celebrate, from that March 13, 2020, when we had a series of very intense days with [former] Superintendent [Jason] McCandless and representatives, and certainly our mayor, and we made the decision ahead of our governor to close our schools," he told the committee.
"At that time we were giving an estimate of roughly two weeks for closure just to assess where we were and where we needed to go, and as you know, the better part of one year now, we have remained in remote learning."
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