Worcester COVID-19 rent drug overdose tenants American Rescue Plan



WORCESTER – Michael O’Rourke thinks he’s in a tough spot.

He would like to evict a few tenants from the rental properties he owns in Worcester – tenants who he says sell or use drugs.

But O’Rourke said he couldn’t give them the boot.

This is because the rent paid by these tenants is provided by the government, and the tenants cannot be dismissed until the end of the rental assistance period, O’Rourke said.

It can take months as the rent arrears are paid, plus several months of rent to come in some cases.

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Also, O’Rourke said, he freely accepts the money because some tenants owe up to $ 12,000 and he needs the money to pay off the mortgage on his property.

And bringing tenants allegedly involved in drug-related activity to justice is something O’Rourke said he didn’t do because it costs too much and takes too long.

The only way to evict tenants who use drugs, O’Rourke said, is to arrest them in his buildings or sell drugs there.

Unfounded complaint

This is not the case, said Jane Edmonstone, senior supervising lawyer in the Community Legal Aid housing unit in Worcester.

Landowners can move forward with drug-related eviction proceedings, Edmonstone said.

Social service agencies that facilitate rent payments tell landlords they’re tied to certain conditions by taking the money, but Edmonstone said drug use does not protect a tenant from eviction proceedings.

“Homeowners can evict for drug-related activities,” Edmonstone said.

Basing eviction solely on non-payment of rent is not grounds for eviction, she said.

The tenants O’Rourke talks about live on the fringes of finance. They rent rooms in his Albion pension at 765 Main St. or in his apartment building at 5 Jackson St.

Albion owner Michael O'Rourke stands in the lobby of his apartment building in a 2019 file photo.

O’Rourke thinks he’s not the only one facing this situation.

He said his concern is shared by others in Worcester who own boarding houses and apartments rented to low-income tenants. There are 30 guesthouses in Worcester, a city spokesperson said.

COVID-19 has made the problem worse

The situation worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, O’Rourke said.

More of O’Rourke’s low-income tenants are receiving emergency rental assistance from the government because they suffered financial hardship during the pandemic. Harm takes many forms, including job loss and reduced working hours.

While O’Rourke has said he thinks government programs help people and he freely accepts rent payments because he has to pay his mortgage, he doesn’t like that he can’t evict tenants who, according to him, use drugs in and around. its buildings.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Albion has recorded four drug overdoses and no arrests, according to Worcester police. At 5 Jackson St., there were four overdoses and three arrests for drugs during the same period, police said.

O’Rourke described a recent incident of two people arrested for drug use outside the Albion. They ran into the building, overdosed and were given an anti-overdose drug called Narcan which saved their lives.

O’Rourke made his feelings known earlier this month at a public meeting of the Worcester License Commission.

He also voiced them during a meeting with City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., O’Rourke declined to comment on the details of the meeting and said he hoped to have another meeting with Augustus.

Program details

There are several emergency rental assistance programs to help low-income tenants affected by COVID-19 avoid eviction.

One is Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, or RAFT. It is a state program that existed before the pandemic and provides up to $ 10,000 per household.

RAFT eligibility is unrelated to the impacts of COVID-19, but some tenants who have experienced hardship during the pandemic are eligible for RAFT payments.

Households whose incomes do not exceed 50% of the region’s median income, or 60% of the MAI for those at risk of becoming homeless due to domestic violence, are eligible for RAFT assistance.

The MAI is the midpoint of all household income in a given area, which means that half of those households earn more and half earn less.

O’Rourke believes he is receiving RAFT payments.

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It’s more likely, said Edmonstone, that O’Rourke will receive payments from the Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP). It’s federal dollars that are part of the US bailout, the $ 1.9 trillion federal stimulus package promulgated in March by President Joe Biden.

The state prioritizes spending on the PIU, Edmonstone said, because those funds could be clawed back by the federal government if not spent.

To access ERAP funds, a tenant must be able to provide a statement attesting to unemployment, lower wages, or increased expenses due to COVID-19. Households may be entitled to a maximum of 18 months of rent arrears and / or future rent.

Renters are eligible for ERAP assistance if they earn up to 80% of the IAM.

Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) is another rental assistance program.

ERMA can provide rental and mortgage assistance to low-income households that have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and may not be eligible for RAFT.

This program is available for households in the range of 50% to 80% of the AMI. Like RAFT, ERMA can provide up to $ 10,000 for eligible households and / or with upcoming rent or mortgage payments.

Emergency rent payments are facilitated by several organizations in Worcester, including the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance and RCAP Solutions.

ACSM has managed the administration of rent assistance to more than 700 Worcester County households since the end of the state’s eviction moratorium last October.

RCAP solutions have facilitated emergency rental assistance to 3,570 families in Worcester County since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Look ahead

Last month, the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal moratorium on evictions put in place during the pandemic to ensure housing for families affected by COVID-19.

Despite this development, there are protections for tenants in Massachusetts, Edmonstone said. They include tenants with pending ERPA applications who are at risk of eviction may have their court cases suspended or continued.

In addition, a pending state bill would provide greater protection against deportation.

As for O’Rourke, he wants tenants using illegal drugs out of his buildings. Explaining that he receives RAFT payments, O’Rourke said it was “a good program for those in need. I am happy to accept the money.

Then O’Rourke cautioned, “For some tenants, I won’t accept RAFT. I’ll have to kick them out.

Contact Henry Schwan at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram


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