Somerville Residents and Leaders, including Emerge MA Alum Kristen Strezo, Protest End of Eviction Moratorium

On Sunday, Somerville residents and elected leaders marched to City Hall to call for more tenant protections.

Around 50 people, among them several local and state legislators, gathered to protest the end of the Massachusetts eviction moratorium in Union Square on Sunday.

The demonstrators then marched to Somerville City Hall.

Activists and elected leaders at the march called on Gov. Charlie Baker to extend the moratorium, which expires on Oct. 17, and release more of the commonwealth’s federal CARES Act funding.

They also pushed for the Legislature to pass a coronavirus housing stability bill which would extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for a year and significantly increase funding for rental and mortgage assistance.

“This pandemic is not over. The suffering is not over. People are still behind on their rent,” Community Action Agency of Somerville organizer Nicole Eigbrett told the crowd. “They need to hear us. They need to stand up for us.”

There were plenty of legislators there to answer that call: state Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D–Second Middlesex, state Reps. Mike Connolly, D–26th Middlesex, and Christine Barber, D–34th Middlesex, as well as Somerville city councilors J.T. Scott, Ben Ewen-Campen, and Kristen Strezo.

Jehlen warned of a “tsunami” of evictions that could fuel the coronavirus pandemic by pushing poor renters into crowded multifamily apartments where state officials say most transmission occurs.

She also argued that the resumption of evictions will hit low-income people and minorities hardest.

“I’m not letting the Legislature off the hook,” she said. “We have to push the governor to do the right thing.”

Connolly, who followed Jehlen at the microphone, advocated for the housing stability bill of which he is a lead co-sponsor.

He cited projections from the Boston-based tenant’s advocacy group City Life / Vida Urbana that 100,000 households could be displaced if the moratorium is lifted.

Connolly said the governor was likely to allow the moratorium to expire while pledging new funding for housing assistance.

On Monday, the Baker administration did just that, announcing $112 million in new rental assistance money.

At the rally, Connolly said that new funding is good, but that “we need time.”

Connolly’s bill to ban most evictions and foreclosures got a boost on Beacon Hill two weeks ago when the Joint Committee on Housing voted to advance the bill. It is now before the House Ways and Means Committee.

“We have the ideas. We have the resources,” Connolly said on Sunday. “What we need is for the people at the highest levels of power to understand what it would be like to be displaced, to have a sense of what it is like to be homeless.”

Two Somerville residents, Estefani Perez and Alva Castro, told demonstrators of their close scrapes with losing their housing.

Castro said she was out of work with a back injury when her daughter and grandson fell ill with COVID-19. The family had to quarantine in separate rooms of their small apartment for days.

Then Castro received a notice from her landlord that she was behind on rent.

“My daughter got the COVID-19, and it was very hard for me to get this letter from the landlord,” she said through a Spanish interpreter.

She received assistance from the Somerville Community Corporation and kept her home, but that incident has left her nervous.

“I want to ask the legislators to help us not be evicted as if we were like trash thrown in the street,” she said.

Just before noon, some 40 demonstrators marched up Summer and Prescott streets to City Hall toting signs and chanting slogans.

On the steps of City Hall, Ewen-Campen told the demonstrators that the stakes are high.

“This legitimately is the most important thing that has happened in Massachusetts politics in 100 years,” he said.