Boston politicians are fighting to retain one of the country's last remaining eviction bans in the face of a waning pandemic and an adverse court ruling. Newly elected Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has vowed to contest a state judge's ruling, which found that the city's moratorium was an abuse of its emergency powers.
"We need more protections for renters in Boston," declared Wu in a statement. "Our focus remains on protecting tenants from displacement during the COVID emergency, and connecting our residents to City and State rental relief programs."
In August, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) issued a sweeping ban on evicting almost any Boston resident for non-payment of rent. Only tenants who had been found by a judge to have violated their lease terms in a way that impaired the health and safety of other building tenants and neighbors could be removed under the order.
The city's moratorium was issued just a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal eviction ban that had been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A Massachusetts ban on evictions, imposed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, was allowed to expire in October.
Boston's moratorium immediately proved controversial. Landlord groups argued it was a usurpation of the state's powers to regulate housing and landlord-tenant matters. Even some housing activists, while supportive of the policy, worried that it would be vulnerable to legal challenges.
A landlord and a constable eventually sued.
BPHC argued in response to their lawsuit that its own eviction moratorium was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and was therefore justified by state public health laws that gave it the power to craft "reasonable public health regulations" to combat communicable diseases.
In a Monday decision, Housing Court Judge Irene Bagdoian firmly rejected this argument, saying that nothing in the statutes cited by BPHC would suggest that an eviction moratorium that overrides state landlord-tenant law was "reasonable."
"This court perceives great mischief in allowing a municipality or one of its agencies to exceed its powers," wrote Bagdoian. She notes that the same logic employed by Boston to defend its moratorium would allow another city to use COVID-19 as a justification for opting out of state laws that force cities to allow for denser housing.
Almost every state and many localities imposed some kind of moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. Most of these have since been repealed, allowed to expire, or significantly weakened as the pandemic has waned, and billions of dollars in federal rental assistance have been made available to tenants in arrears.
Boston's sweeping ban was one of the last of its kind.
It's also one of the few local moratoriums to be successfully challenged in court. Judges have generally given local and state governments wide latitude to impose whatever limits on evictions they see fit during the pandemic.
These moratoriums have been justified as necessary to prevent a "wave" of evictions during the pandemic. That fear was always overblown, and wave has failed to materialize almost anywhere eviction bans have been allowed to lapse.
The policies have, however, put an incredible amount of hardship on a limited number of landlords, who have effectively been forced to provide free housing for unscrupulous, and in a few cases dangerous, tenants.
It is well past time to lift these extraordinary limits on property rights.
The Biden administration is reportedly following up on the limited travel restrictions it imposed on Monday with a plan to require all people entering the U.S. to be tested for COVID-19 and to self-quarantine. The Washington Post reports:
As part of an enhanced winter covid strategy Biden is expected to announce Thursday, U.S. officials would require everyone entering the country to be tested one day before boarding flights, regardless of their vaccination status or country of departure. Administration officials are also considering a requirement that all travelers get retested within three to five days of arrival.
In addition, they are debating a controversial proposal to require all travelers, including U.S. citizens, to self-quarantine for seven days, even if their test results are negative. Those who flout the requirements might be subject to fines and penalties, the first time such penalties would be linked to testing and quarantine measures for travelers in the United States.
The initial travel restrictions announced by the Biden administration in response to the new omicron variant prohibited people who were neither American citizens nor permanent residents from traveling to the U.S. from several African nations.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says it's probably time to stop describing the ongoing inflation as "transitory." Asked by Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Penn.) at a Senate hearing how long the current 6 percent inflation rate would persist, and whether it was right to continue calling it transitory, Powell said the term was confusing people who thought the word meant something closer to its dictionary definition.
Reports the New York Post:
Powell explained that while the word has "different meanings to different people," the Federal Reserve "tend to use it to mean that it won't leave a permanent mark in the form of higher inflation.
"I think it's—it's probably a good time to retire that word and try to explain more clearly what we mean," Powell added.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board said in response that "the current annual rate of 6% is already permanent in the sense that the inflation of the last year is built in and prices won't fall to erase it. Transitory or permanent, we'd prefer that Mr. Powell act to stop it."
- It's Reason's annual webathon this week! Please consider supporting all the free content we provide in support of free minds and free markets.
- BioTech CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters the COVID-19 vaccine his company developed with Pfizer should still offer robust protection against severe disease. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel had said yesterday that there would be a "material drop" in the effectiveness of his company's COVID-19 vaccine.
- A D.C. assistant principal was apparently moonlighting as a full-time principal at a school in Rhode Island, reports DCist. What a commute!
- Sloths are having trouble adjusting to the face-paced hustle and bustle of urban life. CityLab reports on a Costa Rica nonprofit that's trying to help them adapt.
- GOP lawmakers are plotting a federal government shutdown over President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private employers, according to Politico.
- A new lead emerges in the investigation into how live ammunition got onto the set of the movie Rust, where actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot two crew members, one fatally.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.