A brand new Boston metropolis councilor is pushing for a neighborhood pilot program that may “level the playing field” for tenants dealing with eviction, by offering low-income renters with authorized illustration to assist them navigate the complicated court docket system.
Councilor Benjamin Weber put ahead a measure that may create a “right to counsel” program in Boston, constructing on laws pending on Beacon Hill that may create an analogous program for all tenants within the Commonwealth, “as a means to support housing stability and prevent homelessness.”
Gov. Maura Healey additionally proposed earmarking $3.5 million within the state funds to help a statewide proper to counsel program, funds that may go towards paying for authorized illustration for low-income renters and small owner-occupant landlords concerned in eviction proceedings, Weber, a labor legal professional, mentioned at a Wednesday City Council assembly.
“Eviction proceedings are complex procedures where you really want to have an attorney,” Weber mentioned. “The reality is that when people are threatened with eviction, they often face a lopsided playing field.”
The numbers are “simply outrageous,” Weber mentioned, citing Massachusetts Trial Court knowledge that present 90.5% of landlords have authorized illustration throughout eviction proceedings in housing court docket, whereas solely 3.1% of tenants who have been dealing with eviction for non-payment had illustration.
Nearly 25% of tenants lose their housing circumstances by default once they don’t have authorized illustration, that means that they don’t present as much as court docket or fail to file the required court docket paperwork on time, Weber mentioned. That quantity drops to five% when tenants are represented by an legal professional, he mentioned.
Weber’s listening to order states that because the finish of the federal eviction moratorium, which barred landlords from ousting non-paying tenants throughout the COVID-lockdown period, evictions have elevated to pre-pandemic ranges.
His order cites knowledge from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University that time to a 73.8% improve in common eviction filings per week, from 2022 to 2023 — 64 to 111 in these respective years.
In Boston, eviction filings rose by greater than 40% over the previous 12 months, Weber mentioned, a phenomenon that he largely attributes to the “housing crisis” led to by a scarcity of models and rising rents and says disproportionately impacts folks of shade and single moms.
Evictions affect a tenant’s credit score rating, making it tougher for that particular person to get accepted for a brand new housing unit. That contributes to housing instability, and results in a drain on metropolis, state and federal assets by requiring an elevated reliance on shelters, psychological well being and different emergency companies, his order states.
Tenants’ proper to counsel applications, which the listening to order states have been established in at the least 17 cities and 4 states, together with New York City, don’t create “new rights for either tenants or landlords,” Weber mentioned.
“It simply seeks to make sure their existing rights are protected,” he mentioned, later including, “It’s been shown that providing access to counsel in housing cases protects one of the most basic needs — a right to have a roof over your head.”
In Massachusetts, defendants have the correct to counsel in felony court docket proceedings however not civil issues.
Councilor Liz Breadon and Council President Ruthzee Louijeune co-sponsored the listening to order, which was referred to the housing committee.