WESTFIELD — As the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire on July 31, Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said that the city is following the events closely.
“There is definitely some exposure here in Westfield we’re concerned about,” Miller said, adding that 35 percent of the housing units in Westfield are rentals. He said there are a lot of eviction filings waiting for their execution in Housing Court, which hasn’t acted on matters of non-payments yet.
Miller, whose office runs the city’s Community Development Block Grant CARES Act program, said he is pleased with what the city has had available to avoid evictions; but, “we need people to take advantage of it.”
One program is funded by the city’s block grant. The Valley Opportunity Council (VOC) has been conducting intake for the rental assistance program since January, intended for people who are behind on rent or mortgage for at least 30 days because of a loss of income through reduced hours, loss of employment, or health issues due to COVID-19. “We still have significant funding available for that program,” Miller said.
As the end of the moratorium grew closer, demand for the program has been starting to pick up. The Valley Opportunity Council received at least ten applications over the course of the last week, and are fielding phone calls on a regular basis from Westfield, according to Miller.
In addition, there are other state emergency programs available such as Wayfinders in Springfield. Miller said both the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan have significant resources to avoid eviction, and his office is telling people to contact both places. “We’re doing our best to educate people about those resources, and doing our best to get people to a place where they’re stable in their housing,” he said.
“We are fortunate here in Western Mass., because there is a pretty coordinated effort by a COVID housing task force which has been meeting every week on the topic of housing. There is a pretty well-connected network of people who can refer to the right places,” Miller said, adding that as many as 60 people are on the task force from Greenfield to Westfield to Ware.
Miller also said that people are always welcome to call the Community Development office for help and referrals at 413-572-6246.
“We’re fielding calls regularly from landlords who are trying to help their tenants and from people facing eviction,” he said. He said the city has the ability to assist with both rent and mortgage, but the primary need is on the rental assistance side.
Miller said he’s not worried about what will happen on July 31, but that’s when the clock gets moving and the danger gets much more critical. There is a six- to eight-week transaction period for evictions, he said, adding that it doesn’t seem as though there will be any more extensions, even though advocates continue to lobby for one.
Meanwhile, the Community Development office will be getting reports from the housing courts, and Miller said they will know within hours the first evictions that actually happen. He said the goal is for people in housing court to share information about the assistance that is available.
However, he said it’s important to pay attention before eviction notices arrive. “We’re prepared to help, and hope that people will be able to avoid that. People need to be prepared and take care of resources that are available,” Miller said.