Every mayoral candidate has taken donations from landlords who moved to evict tenants during the pandemic. We asked them about it.
The five Boston mayoral candidates have all promised to work for residents who are in danger of losing their homes as they vie to run the city, saying they will prioritize housing stability. But all together they have taken more than $100,000 in donations from landlords—including one candidate’s spouse—who have filed more than 200 evictions for non-payment of rent since Gov. Charlie Baker lifted the state’s eviction moratorium last October.
A review of public records found more than 870 eviction filings for non-payment of rent at Boston properties in Eastern District Housing Court since the moratorium was lifted. And campaign finance records covering that period show large donations from property owners and property management companies who filed evictions going to mayoral candidates—with current Mayor Kim Janey getting the lion’s share.
Janey has received $42,450 from 26 landlords or employees of companies who have filed a total of 120 eviction notices for non-payment of rent, according to court records. Shortly after receiving questions for this story, Janey said the Boston Public Health Commission approved a temporary residential eviction moratorium that “prohibits landlords and property owners from pursuing tenant eviction proceedings in the City of Boston,” effective immediately. Copies of the order were not yet available and Janey said she would release more information next week, according to the State House News Service.
At-Large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George has received $31,700 from 23 property owners, but they have actually filed more eviction notices than Janey’s contributors, with 140. One of those landlords is her husband, Douglas George, whose company Alvan-Mora filed an eviction notice for non-payment of rent on Aug. 25.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell got $17,250 from 15 landlords and companies, who were responsible for filing 73 evictions. While City Councilor Michelle Wu received $14,200 from 9 landlords and companies filing 59 evictions, and John Barros took in $9,750 from eight landlords and companies responsible for 57 evictions.
Eviction and mediation
In 2020, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control ordered a federal moratorium on evictions that prevented eviction for non-payment of rent if tenants sent a declaration of qualifications to court. The measure allowed eviction cases to be heard, but paused actual orders of eviction. The Supreme Court struck that down last week, but Massachusetts had already lifted its eviction moratorium on Oct. 17, 2020—after paying consultants McKinsey & Company hundreds of thousands of dollars for a report that backed lifting the ban—opening the door for landlords to once again file evictions.
We reviewed eviction cases filed in Boston for non-payment of rent from Oct. 17 through the end of August. Under state law, landlords can also evict for cause if a tenant is causing harm, and for no cause, but our review focused solely on cases for non-payment of rent.
An eviction notice serves at least one person and can cover multiple other people living in the property. Not all filings ended in eviction. Some led to mediation, according to court records.
Maloney Properties has filed 13 evictions since the moratorium was lifted, but president Janet Frazier said those have not resulted in evictions, although some cases are pending. Frazier said Maloney primarily works for nonprofit community development corporations and has usually used mediation to resolve nonpayment of rent, saying the company has worked with residents to fill out aid applications.
“Unfortunately it’s a tool we have to use with folks who aren’t responsive,” Frazier said of eviction filings. “We manage thousands of units in the city, this is an incredibly small number of times we have to take action.”
An emergency law passed last year requires landlords to notify tenants that aid is available when they file evictions, but legislators are considering increasing its power and requiring landlords to swear they have worked on getting tenants rental assistance before filing evictions in the first place. Andrea Park of the Mass Law Reform Institute said some landlords will file evictions without knowing federal and state aid is available, and that the process needs to prioritize aid before evicting.
“Once the process gets started, everyone has to spend money and time. Being under the gun in a court case is the wrong way to do it,” Park said. “The answer shouldn’t be, I couldn’t reach you, I couldn’t talk to you, so I sued you.”
Housing advocates have criticized mediation as often leading to tenants losing their homes at a later date, and say the eviction process itself often intimidates tenants into giving up their housing—and follows them when they try to find a new place to live.
“In Massachusetts, given the market, landlords will see your name, look at the record and move on to the next person on the list, that’s the problem with filing evictions. Keeping them from being filed in the first place is what should be happening,” Park said. “A mediated agreement could be that the tenant agrees to move out in five days, that is a loss of housing.”
“Many settlements require a tenant to move out of their unit by a certain date. Other settlements can impose significant requirements on the tenant to avoid eviction or set out some type of probationary period, which can result in the tenant losing possession of the unit shortly after the settlement,” according to a report on Boston evictions from City Life/Vida Urbana. The document adds, “Eviction filings leave a permanent record on tenants’ housing history—making it difficult for tenants with an eviction filing to find subsequent housing, even if the case was dismissed.”
Many landlords and property management companies who filed evictions donated to multiple candidates. Maloney employees donated $2,500 to Wu, $1,000 to Barros, and $500 to Essaibi-George. Frazier said the company has employees who live in the city and work with city officials, and that eviction filings and campaign donations are unrelated.
“I can’t see how one has to do with the other,” Frazier said.
Other landlords had larger donations. Employees of Groma Real Estate donated $4,000 each to Barros, Campbell, Janey, and Wu. Essaibi-George pulled in the highest amount from a single company, getting $7,500 from employees of National Development, which manages the Ink Block.
And numerous politically active property companies filed eviction notices in the double digits. One developer who donated $1,000 to Janey and $1,000 to Essaibi-George filed 11 eviction notices, while another who along with his wife donated $2,500 to Essaibi-George filed 22 notices. Higher-ups at management group Peabody Properties, which filed 34 eviction notices, donated $4,500 to Janey.
Essaibi-George’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign donations and her husband’s eviction filing. Other candidates did not directly address the donations in their responses, but said their backgrounds and campaign platforms showed they would fight for housing.
“Mayor Janey governs solely through her values, and no other candidate has done more for Boston residents facing eviction than she has,” Janey campaign manager Kirby Chandler said in a statement. “Just yesterday she banned evictions in the city of Boston after the Supreme Court struck down a nationwide eviction moratorium. During her first week as Mayor, she moved quickly to provide $50 million dollars in emergency funding to help families remain in their homes—assisting more than 3,400 families thus far.”
Chandler continued, “[The Janey] administration will continue to execute on its coordinated plan to prevent evictions—working with small landlords, reaching out to families facing eviction, boosting access to legal representation and ensuring the availability of financial resources.”
“There is no other candidate in this race who can point directly to affordable housing they have built or residents they have worked to keep in homes,” Barros said. “I have built affordable homes that work for our families, I’ve invested in communities without displacing residents, leveraged private sector dollars to build more affordable units across our city for low-income residents, seniors, and our families, and established resources and programs to protect vulnerable renters.”
“Andrea has always led on housing affordability and protecting renters, as she has proved with her extensive record including continued calls for an eviction moratorium in partnership with public health experts,” Campbell campaign manager Katie Prisco-Buxbaum said in a statement. “She is not beholden to special interests and will continue to fight to make Boston more affordable for all.”
“I’ve never shied away from standing up to powerful interests, fighting big corporations to protect tenants from displacement and now being the only candidate in the race to support rent control,” Wu said. “I will always fight to ensure Boston residents have safe, healthy, stable homes.”