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Cambridge City Council Passes Measure Asking Landlords to Give Residents Leeway Amid Coronavirus Crisis

City officials took up measures to alleviate pressure on tenants during their weekly meeting Monday.
City officials took up measures to alleviate pressure on tenants during their weekly meeting Monday. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Jasper G. Goodman, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council greenlit a measure on Monday that encourages city landlords to give breaks to their tenants as residents bear the financial burden of the global coronavirus crisis.

The measure, which was adopted unanimously, does not mandate any action, but rather “requests” that city landlords forego rent increases for 60 days and that they not evict any tenants with a “demonstrated, substantial loss of income” due to the coronavirus.

“There has been a tremendous amount of job loss and diminishment of regular income due to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Cambridge Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, a co-sponsor of the measure, said. “This is just to elevate and ask that Cambridge landlords really think about their tenants and see if there’s any way to mitigate rent increases at this time.”

The measure asks that landlords allow a 120-day grace period on rent payments for residents who demonstrate a substantial hit to their income.

The Council passed an additional resolution that calls on the state and the federal government to enact a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just two members of the City Council — Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and Councilor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. — were physically present for Monday’s meeting, with the rest of the body participating virtually. The public comments portion of the meeting took place via Zoom, as no observers were allowed inside City Hall for the gathering.

The Council also unanimously passed a measure Monday that requests the city manager explore providing internet access to residents who lack it as libraries and other public facilities remain closed due to the virus.

Councilors also debated a pair of measures that would have asked the city manager to look into closing some roads in order to give residents space to exercise, but the measure was tabled after several councilors raised objections.

“To now send the message that we want thousands of people, potentially, on Memorial Drive poses a great risk to a lot of people — especially the seniors,” Toomey said. “This is not the right time to be looking at doing this.”

Prior to debating measures Monday, the Council heard a presentation on the city’s plan to use the War Memorial Recreation Center as a facility to house homeless people amid the outbreak. City Manager Louis A. DePasquale’s announcement Monday afternoon that the city planned to use the facility to help house homeless residents comes as some local homeless shelters are struggling to stay open. The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter was forced to close its doors last week.

The city announced Monday that it would support the Phillip Brooks House Association’s Y2Y youth homeless shelter with $52,890 so it can remain open through at least April 15. Mallon said she was pleased with the allocation and encouraged the city to look at funding the shelter into the summer.

“I’ve volunteered and spent time in all of our shelters, and I can say that the shelter guests at Y2Y is a very different population,” Mallon said. “They’re very young adults, from 18 to 24, and have very different needs. They might not feel comfortable in this fieldhouse type setting with 125 other people.”

Claude Jacob, the city’s Chief Public Health Officer said the Recreation Center is the “best option” to house homeless residents because it provides for space to house COVID-19-positive people separately from those who are not showing symptoms.

“One of the reasons that made the fieldhouse so attractive was the ability to social distance that large group of people because of the ample space that was provided,” Cambridge Police Chief Branville G. Bard Jr. told councilors.

Jacob said the city plans to have 22 beds for homeless people showing symptoms or awaiting test results in the “quarantine quarters” of the facility, as well as 25 to 50 beds in isolation units for residents who have tested positive. There will also be between 50 and 100 beds in the fieldhouse, which will serve as an overflow space for other shelters, according to Jacob.

“It does make me sad that it takes an emergency situation like this for us to think this hard about housing our homeless,” Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan said. “I hope that as we get through this crisis, we can find more permanent solutions to that problem.”

Some Harvard students have called on the University to use its now empty dorms to house homeless residents.

DePasquale, the city manager, said that Harvard and MIT “could not have been more cooperative” in the process. In a press release Monday, he said that the city has secured commitments from both Harvard and MIT to use classrooms if Cambridge public schools — which use the War Memorial Recreation Center — reopen later this spring.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

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