CHAPA Testimony in Support of HOMES Eviction Record Sealing Bill, S.921

Testimony as delivered to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary in August 2021: 

CHAPA’s is writing in support of S.921, An Act promoting housing opportunity and mobility through eviction sealing (HOMES).

CHAPA’s mission is to encourage the production and preservation of housing that is affordable to families and individuals with low and moderate incomes and to foster diverse and sustainable communities through planning and community development.

CHAPA believes that everyone should have a safe, healthy, accessible, and affordable home in communities they choose. We are the only statewide group that represents the entire housing ecosystem. CHAPA is a trusted convener and consensus builder to a wide range of interests making sure that our state is enacting, investing in, and implementing smart affordable housing policies.

The Commonwealth’s future is shaped by us. In Massachusetts, we all flourish when our neighbors and neighborhoods that we love flourish. This has helped us to come together in the past to keep our people and communities nourished and growing. We came together to be the first to invest in our collective health through universal health care. In 2018, led by this Committee, we came together to lift people up instead of locking them up through landmark Criminal Justice Reform. We are also leading right now when it comes to investing in home.

The time for collective action is now. To ensure the future of the people and places we love, we must keep cultivating our shared strength by enacting S.921. The urgent impacts of the COVID pandemic and the damaging legacy of racial injustice are putting our entire Commonwealth’s future at risk. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to come together again now and lead to a thriving tomorrow.

Where we grow makes us strong. Like a garden, where we grow plays a huge role in whether we have what we need to flourish or whether we will struggle to thrive. Unfortunately, opportunities to flourish have been withheld from so many of the Commonwealth’s families—especially families of color—through discriminatory policies and practices that have drained our collective strength.

To get to the future that we want, we can and must do things differently. S.921 will help everyone in the Commonwealth thrive by providing a better future for tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents looking for their next home. Reforming our eviction records processes will protect residents from the ongoing harm and stigma caused by permanent or inaccurate eviction records when trying to find a home.

S.921 will also help grow a housing ecosystem that benefits everyone—our people, our communities, and our systems.

For our people, S.921 will give Massachusetts residents more choice to find, rent, or buy a new home in a community where they want to live by limiting damaging eviction records. With better access to a stable and affordable homes, individuals and families will be better able to work, care for their families, and educate their children. Removing some of the stress and trauma caused by evictions will also improve physical and mental health.[1]

For our communities, S.921 will make us more diverse socially by allowing residents to live and thrive in communities they may not have previously been able to live. Increasing a family’s choice to live in the community they want will also help create economic growth by allowing more residents to live closer to their jobs.

For our systems, S.921 will help address social and economic inequality by improving our eviction records policies that disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.[2] By providing more stability for residents and communities and increasing access to homes that are affordable, S.921 will help strengthen our health, education, and workforce systems.[3]

S.921 gives us the opportunity to cultivate a stronger housing ecosystem through reform of the eviction records process. The current way provides unrestricted availability to online eviction records that may be decades old, inaccurate, or obsolete.[4] This system can have serious negative impacts on people’s ability to find a home, their credit, and even their employment.

The current process does not take into account the outcome of the eviction case, whether the case is the fault of the tenant, whether there was an adverse judgment against the tenant that actually resulted in an eviction, or whether a tenant satisfied the judgement. The process allows unregulated access to these records by tenant screening services and consumer reporting agencies. There is also no process for parties to correct any errors in eviction records.

S.921 addresses these issues by creating an intentional, balanced approach for our eviction record processes. The bill offers important protections for residents while still providing property owners with access to relevant information on eviction cases for current or future tenants. S.921 seals all eviction cases when filed and while the case is pending. An eviction case will become public when there is an agreement, judgement, or when a tenant is actually evicted in a case for fault or non-payment of rent. These records would be publicly available for three years. S.921 also creates a process for parties to correct any errors in eviction case records.

S.921 will also help us recover from the pandemic. Tens of thousands of residents face being involved in eviction cases as state and federal eviction moratoria end after falling behind on rent because of COVID.[5] While emergency rental assistance may prevent many of these evictions, every person involved in these cases face the long term consequences of an eviction record. S.921 will immediately help these residents by ensuring that any eviction record will not be a permanent barrier to finding a home in the future.

There has never been a better moment to put Massachusetts on a path to equity, resilience, and sustainability through housing. Affordable housing is a top priority of Massachusetts residents. We have committed leadership at the state. We also have new tools and resources to build more homes that are affordable.

We need bold action to harvest a strong future. CHAPA urges the Committee to vote out S.921 favorably. Thank you for your consideration and for your continued commitment in growing a Commonwealth where everyone can thrive.

 


[1] See Gracie Himmelstein & Matthew Desmond, Health Affairs, Eviction And Health: A Vicious Cycle Exacerbated By A Pandemic (April 1, 2021) (with evictions disproportionately affecting people of color, especially households with low-income, the health consequences of eviction are likely to widen both racial and socioeconomic disparities in health).

[2] See Matorin v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Brief of Amici Curiae Matthew Desmond, American Civil Liberties Union, William Berman, Justin Steil, And David Robinson Regarding The Disproportionate Adverse Effect Of Eviction On Black Families (July 24, 2020) (In the Commonwealth, Black tenants face eviction more than twice as often as white tenants, even though they make up only 11% of the renting population. Black women are at particularly high risk, facing eviction 2.5 times as often as white women despite their much smaller population in numbers).

[3] See Veronica Gaitán, Housing Matters, How Housing Can Determine Educational, Health, and Economic Outcomes (Sept. 19, 2018).

[4] See Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Evicted for Life: How Eviction Court Records Are Creating a New Barrier to Housing (June 12, 2019).

[5] Massachusetts Trial Court, Filings Actions and Dispositions of Summary Process Cases (July 14, 2021) (15,243 total summary process cases were filed in Massachusetts between December 2020 and June 2021).