COVID Eviction Legal Help Project Extended Through December

State provides additional recourses to eligible low-income tenants and landlords

BOSTON, May 5 — The COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) has been extended for six months to provide continued support to at-risk, low-income tenants and landlords during the pandemic.

Managed by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, CELHP is part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Eviction Diversion Initiative, which was created in October 2020 to keep people safely in their homes during the pandemic. Initially structured to extend to the end of Fiscal Year 2021 (June 30), the project will now run until December 31, 2021.

The CELHP project created a statewide legal services delivery system to provide free legal assistance to income-eligible tenants and landlords who are owner-occupants of two- and three-family homes.

“I am very grateful that the CELHP project has been extended,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director. “Even though we are seeing lower infection rates and increasing numbers of vaccinations, low-income people – who have been disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic – are still reeling from loss of income that leaves that at high risk of eviction. With additional time and resources to help the most vulnerable tenants and landlords, more people can achieve housing stability.”

MLAC oversees the delivery of CELHP services through contracts with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and six regional legal aid organizations across the state: Community Legal Aid, De Novo, Greater Boston Legal Services, MetroWest Legal Services, Northeast Legal Aid, and South Coastal Counties Legal Services.

CELHP provides referrals, legal information, assistance, and legal representation in all sittings of the Massachusetts Housing Court, to preserve or achieve housing stability. When possible, it also provides legal assistance in District Courts with high-volume summary process caseloads and to prevent the termination of subsidies prior to court to avert eviction.

To qualify for assistance, people must have an annual household income of less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For example, a family of four with an annual income of $52,400 would qualify. The project also provides referrals for “low bono” services for low-income owner-occupants with incomes between 200 and 300 percent of the poverty guidelines.

Return to school could jeopardize jobless benefits

A federal law has allowed parents who couldn’t work during the pandemic, because they had to stay home with children in remote learning, to collect pandemic unemployment assistance benefits. But with most Massachusetts school districts reopening this week for full-time, in-person instruction, those who’ve been claiming those benefits could soon lose them. . . .

Monica Halas, lead staff attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services, said there are a lot of nuances to the pandemic unemployment assistance rules that would allow people at risk of losing the benefits to continue receiving them. She said even with schools reopening, some people could still claim the unemployment benefits.

“If they have a child who can’t wear a mask, or if their immune system is compromised, or for some other reason they can’t go to school they can still get benefits,” she said. . . . “If having your child going to school puts you or someone in your immediate family at risk that’s another reason to collect. . . The important thing for people to know is if they have options.”

Read more in The Salem News.

While most Boston schools remained closed, McKinley opened its doors. Yet almost no one came

On a frigid late winter afternoon, three lone students exited the William McKinley Preparatory High School at the end of the school day. Each climbed into one of three waiting yellow school buses — which he occupied entirely on his own.

The low attendance rates, which have shown only marginal signs of improving in April’s first weeks, speak to the difficulty of compelling students who already disliked school to attend when it’s optional. Even before the pandemic, the neglected school struggled to entice high school students to attend class. . . .

“McKinley can be a stressful place,” said Elizabeth McIntyre, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services who represents students with disabilities. McIntyre has represented 49 McKinley students since 2014, and consulted on cases for nearly 200 more. Before COVID-19, McIntyre worked with many of her McKinley clients to help them transfer to schools with more therapeutic services and no police officers on patrol. All of her students who have studied at the McKinley schools during the pandemic have welcomed remote learning, McIntyre says.

“For my clients who really struggled at McKinley, [remote learning] has alleviated some of those struggles,” she said. . . Read more in The Boston Globe.

House Budget Generates Mix of Reactions

Budget season is underway on Beacon Hill — House lawmakers and aides are churning out amendments and preparing for debate later this month, reporters are scouring the House’s fiscal year 2022 proposal (H 4000) for the newsy nuggets not highlighted by budget writers, and advocacy groups are making their thoughts known and hoping to shape the final product….

….Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation: “We are extremely grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing critical increased funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that safeguards vulnerable people at risk of losing their housing, income, benefits, and other necessary protections.”

The House budget proposes $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, an increase of $6 million over the current budget.

“COVID-19 has not just threatened the lives and livelihood of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In many cases it has also limited their ability to reach out for civil legal aid protections and use the technology necessary to participate in remote court proceedings. Legal aid organizations have been engaged and innovative in responding to this urgent need.”…

Read more from State House News Service (subscription required).

MLAC Praises $6M increase for civil legal aid in House Ways & Means Budget

Impact of pandemic on low-income people heightens urgency of civil legal aid

BOSTON, April 14, 2021 – Today, the House Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2022 budget, including $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. That is a $6 million increase over FY21.

“We are extremely grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing critical increased funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that safeguards vulnerable people at risk of losing their housing, income, benefits, and other necessary protections,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC, noting that the funding increase is an important recognition of the profound impact COVID-19 has had on low-income people in Massachusetts. “COVID-19 has not just threatened the lives and livelihood of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In many cases it has also limited their ability to reach out for civil legal aid protections and use the technology necessary to participate in remote court proceedings. Legal aid organizations have been engaged and innovative in responding to this urgent need,” Parker said.

Parker also thanked members of the House for their support of this increased funding, noting that they have seen firsthand during the pandemic how attorneys in civil legal aid organizations across the state have helped their constituents in crisis.

She praised the Equal Justice Coalition, which has championed the essential work of civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

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‘My anxiety was through the roof.’ Eviction threats heightened during COVID-19

It seemed like the world was crashing down on Antonia Arman. She was out of work, as was her mother who lives with her. Also living in their apartment are Arman’s sons, one of whom is 23 and the other 10. To make matters worse, Arman, 51, and her mother each contracted COVID-19.

It all added up to a drastic cut in family income, and overdue rent piled up. Eventually, a court summons arrived in the mail signaling the start of possible eviction proceedings….

Many are unaware of services available to help them. The key is to get the word out, said Betsy Soule, executive director of MetroWest Legal Services Inc., a Framingham nonprofit that provides advocacy to low-income families….“We’re trying to do as much as we can,” said Soule to explain her organization’s efforts to inform communities about programs to help those who face eviction and foreclosure. “The sooner you can cut off and solve it, the better.”…

Read more in MetroWest Daily News.

Supreme Judicial Court Appoints New Co-Chairs For Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission

BOSTON, MA — The Supreme Judicial Court today announced the appointment of three new co-chairs to lead the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission: the Honorable Serge Georges, Jr., Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court; Marijane Benner Browne, Esq.; and Laura W. Gal, Esq. They will take office on June 30, 2021, succeeding current co-chair Susan M. Finegan, Esq., and the late Honorable Ralph D. Gants, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, who served as co-chair of the Commission until his death last September.

Established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the Access to Justice Commission seeks to improve access to legal assistance and other resources for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt, and family law.

“I would like to thank Justice Georges, Attorney Browne, and Attorney Gal for their willingness to take on these important leadership roles for the Commission,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd. “I am confident that they will continue the Commission’s vibrant tradition of creative, collaborative problem-solving. And I would also like to thank Attorney Finegan for her extraordinary service to the Commission as a member since 2011 and as co-chair since 2015, and especially for her fortitude in guiding the Commission’s crucial work through all the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the passing of Chief Justice Gants during the past year.”

“During these difficult times supporting access to justice for everyone in the Commonwealth has never been more essential,” added current co-chair Susan Finegan. “The Commission is so fortunate that Justice Georges, Attorney Browne, and Attorney Gal will be carrying on our critical efforts to address the many access to justice issues that we are facing. The Commission will benefit from their collective wisdom and experience and will continue to thrive under their leadership.”

The Honorable Serge Georges, Jr., was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court by Governor Charlie Baker in December 2020 after serving seven years as an Associate Justice of the Boston Municipal Court. Before his appointment to the bench, he had a diverse private practice focused on commercial litigation and criminal defense practice in state and federal courts. He also teaches at Suffolk University Law School and the University of Massachusetts School of Law. Justice Georges is a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School.

Marijane Benner Browne, Esq., is Director of Lateral Partner Recruiting at Ropes & Gray LLP. Attorney Browne has been a member of the Commission since 2012, serving as co-chair of its Revenue Enhancement Committee. She has also served as a member and chair of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation; as a trustee of Bowdoin College; and as Vice Chair of the Boston Law Firm Group, a consortium of Boston-area legal employers dedicated to the recruitment, retention and advancement of attorneys of color. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School.

Laura W. Gal, Esq., is the Managing Attorney of the Family Law Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services and has previously held positions as Supervisory Attorney for Family Law at Northeast Legal Aid and as a staff attorney at Community Legal Aid. She served the Commission as its part-time consultant from September 2017 through June 2019. Since her appointment as a Commissioner in September 2019, she has also served as co-chair of the Commission’s Family Law Committee, and as a member of the Executive Committee. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the George Washington University National Law Center.

Justice Georges and Attorney Browne will both be serving three-year terms, while Attorney Gal will be serving a special one-year term to assist with the Commission’s leadership transition.

Among other activities, the Access to Justice Commission coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. The Commission also works to increase the number of attorneys able to provide pro bono or limited assistance civil legal services and coordinates with the court system on initiatives that assist individuals in understanding and navigating civil legal proceedings. The Commission’s members include representatives from the court system, legal aid organizations, social service organizations, bar associations, law schools, businesses, and other stakeholders in the access to justice community.

MLAC Statement Against Anti-Asian Violence and Discrimination

In the past year, violence against members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community has moved from the shadows into the public spotlight. In the past weeks, the brutal murders of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, and Dayou Feng in Atlanta underscore that this violence has intensified; we must recognize that and work to counter it.

We mourn the loss of all the victims of violent attacks and extend our deepest sympathies to their families and communities. We also recognize the pain and fear that racist attacks create in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, and as an organization committed to justice for everyone we stand in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and denounce anti-Asian hate and all forms of oppression and discrimination.

We also recognize the important work in the Massachusetts legal aid community, such as the Asian Outreach Project at Greater Boston Legal Services. We appreciate the essential work of legal aid advocates across the state working to counter inequitable practices and policies. We will continue to support these efforts and partner with community organizations that work to promote justice.

Last year, in response to the senseless deaths of Black and Brown people, MLAC announced its re-commitment to ongoing work to oppose systemic racism and advance racial justice. That work has grown no less urgent. We will work as an organization to counter hate and injustice, and we must work as individuals to counter implicit and explicit bias in ourselves and in our communities. We must also refrain from being passive bystanders when we witness bias and discrimination; instead we must act to counter hate.

We must work together to make Justice for All a reality for everyone.

Lynne Parker
Executive Director

‘Afraid of taking the subway’: Atlanta murders raise safety concerns for Asian workers, businesses

Anti-Asian violence has sharply increased since the onset of COVID-19 and the xenophobic rhetoric used by Donald Trump and other politicians to blame China for its spread. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition formed to address anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, has received reports of 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents since last March. The group found that businesses are the primary location where these incidents occur, followed by public streets and parks….

Thao Ho, who works as a paralegal and community organizer to support nail salon workers in Massachusetts, said the industry is staffed mostly by Vietnamese immigrants, some of whom are undocumented. One salon worker who has been putting in longer hours to earn enough to get by during the pandemic told her she’s uneasy about traveling home later at night than she used to.

“The day after the murders . . . she told me she was really afraid of taking the subway,” Ho said. “Although she can’t actually point to any [violence against her], she feels in her heart that it is a necessity to even switch train cars so that she is not by herself.”…

Read more in the Boston Globe.

Last Call with Gina Plata-Nino, Community Legal Aid Attorney

Gina Plata-Nino is a key leader within the Worcester Together Coalition, in addition to her full-time role as a Community Legal Aid attorney.

Read the full Q+A with Gina Plata-Nino in Worcester Magazine.