Legal Project Scaling Up to Help Prevent Evictions

A legal assistance project started by the Baker administration as a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was set to end is looking to ramp up services and bring on a host of new attorneys as eviction cases for failure to pay rent are on the rise in the state.

The project, run by a group of regional legal aid organizations, provides assistance to both tenants and landlords facing pandemic-related eviction issues…The COVID Eviction Legal Help Project is hiring 48 attorneys, 48 paralegals, 24 senior lawyers, and 17 intake workers who will help tenants. And a group of pro-bono attorneys, through the Volunteer Lawyers Project, will provide legal assistance to income-eligible owner-occupants of two- and three-family properties. Read more at State House News Service. (subscription required)

For Legislators: A Guide to CELHP

On December 21, legislators gathered virtually for a briefing on the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project, which provides urgently needed legal assistance in pandemic-related eviction cases.

The CELH Project expands the capacity of existing legal aid organizations to provide essential help to income-eligible tenants facing eviction due to COVID-19 and to landlords who are income-eligible owner-occupants of two- and three-family homes.

The PowerPoint presentation below walks legislators, their staff, and anyone interested in learning how to prevent evictions, through the new program, which is administered by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The Project also has a new website.

Gov. Baker Approves $29M for Civil Legal Aid Funding

$5M increase boosts aid for people harmed in COVID’s wake

Governor Charlie Baker has signed the FY21 Budget of the Commonwealth, allocating $29 million for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – a $5 million increase over the prior fiscal year.

“I applaud and thank Governor Baker for recognizing the urgent need for civil legal aid to help low-income people avoid the loss of essential benefits and protections during the pandemic,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Civil legal aid is an essential part of the Commonwealth’s recovery from COVID-19, and the additional funding will help civil legal aid organizations in every part of the state serve more people facing serious threats to their safety and well-being.”

Parker also thanked the leadership of the House and Senate and the many legislators who recognized the unprecedented need legal aid lawyers are working to address. “Thousands more Massachusetts residents will receive legal assistance because of this funding, in the areas of housing, unemployment, domestic violence, family law, consumer debt, immigration, health care, education, and other benefits.”

Parker also recognized the advocacy of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, numerous other county and specialty bar associations, and managing partners at many of the state’s largest law farms. In addition, many social service workers and advocates spoke out for legal aid funding to help people in the communities they serve.

“Every day during this pandemic, we are reminded that everyone’s well-being is served when the health and safety of others is protected,” Parker said. “Additional funding for civil legal aid creates a wide array of benefits and advances the principles of justice and fairness for all people.”

MLAC applauds Budget allocating $29M for Civil Legal Aid

House and Senate approve FY21 budget, recognizing need for greater access to legal protection

BOSTON, December 7, 2020 — In voting to approve a compromise budget for Fiscal Year 2021, the Massachusetts House and Senate have included $29 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation 0321-1600 – a $5 million increase over FY 20.

“We’re grateful to House and Senate leadership and all the legislators who recognized the extraordinary hardship low-income people are facing because of the COVID-19 crisis and the remedies that civil legal aid can provide to people facing eviction, unemployment, loss of benefits, and other serious problems,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “This much-needed funding will go a long way to providing more essential legal services to people in every city and town in Massachusetts.”

Parker recognized the members of the Budget Conference Committee, who worked hard to create the final budget and provide the $29 million in funding for civil legal aid. The Conference Committee members included: Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues; House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz; Senate Ways and Means Vice Chairwoman Cindy Friedman; Senate ranking Republican Patrick O’Connor; House Ways and Means Vice Chairwoman Denise Garlick; and House ranking Republican Rep. Todd Smola.

Speaking on the House floor on Friday, Chair Michlewitz said that the legislature was “investing $29 million into the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, a $5 million increase over last year. These additional funds will provide greater access to the legal protections they deserve.”

“It was wonderful to hear the Chair publicly recognize the extraordinary work that legal aid lawyers have been doing in their communities during the pandemic,” Parker said.

She also thanked the Equal Justice Coalition that has championed the crucial work of civil legal aid during the COVID-19 crisis, 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 in every corner of the Commonwealth.

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MLAC Statement on Confirmation of Kimberly Budd as SJC Chief Justice

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation applauds the confirmation of Kimberly S. Budd as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Justice Budd brings extraordinary credentials, judicial experience, and legal intellect to the position. In her four years on the SJC and seven years on the Superior Court before that, she has shown herself to be a talented, thoughtful, and creative legal thinker with a deep commitment to fairness and justice for all. A former member of the board of directors of Greater Boston Legal Services, she also brings a keen understanding of the essential need for civil legal aid.

Upon accepting Gov. Baker’s nomination to be chief of the state’s highest court, Justice Budd called the occasion “bittersweet,” as she and the legal community mourned the passing of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, whom she called a “mentor and a friend.”

Justice Budd filled the Superior Court seat of Justice Gants when he was elevated to the SJC, and she will now fill his role as chief. The legal aid community keenly felt the loss of Justice Gants, who was a longtime champion of civil legal aid and access to justice. We are confident that she will recognize legal aid’s vital role in safeguarding the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable people.

We celebrate this historic nomination and that Massachusetts will have its first Black woman chief justice.

We applaud Gov. Baker for this exceptional nomination and the Governor’s Council for its unanimous confirmation. We look forward to working with Chief Justice Budd to advance justice for all.

Lynne Parker, Executive Director

MLAC praises Senate Ways and Means for recommending $29M for Civil Legal Aid

In wake of COVID, demand for legal aid surges

Today the Senate Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2021 budget, including $29 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation 0321-1600 – a $5 million increase over FY 20.

“This funding increase is vital, and we thank Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing it,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on low-income people in the Commonwealth. This funding increase will help legal aid lawyers across the state provide essential services to protect people at risk of losing their housing, access to benefits, and other protections.”

Parker also extended her gratitude to the many Senators who support this increased funding and recognize the extraordinary work that legal aid lawyers have been doing in their communities during the pandemic.

She also thanked the Equal Justice Coalition that has championed the crucial work of civil legal aid during the COVID-19 crisis, 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 in every corner of the Commonwealth.

“Civil legal aid is an essential service that has been helping vulnerable people in every part of the Commonwealth resolve serious legal issues that threaten people’s health, safety, and financial stability. This budget recognizes that the surge of need is ongoing and that front-line legal aid lawyers and advocates are a vital part of the state’s response to and recovery from this crisis,” Parker said.

MLAC to oversee statewide COVID Eviction Legal Help Project

Legal services network to aid eligible low-income tenants and landlords

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation will manage a new COVID Eviction Legal Help Project to provide urgently needed legal assistance in pandemic-related eviction cases.

The CELH Project will expand the capacity of existing legal aid organizations to provide essential help to income-eligible tenants facing eviction due to COVID-19 and to landlords who are income-eligible owner-occupants of two- and three-family homes.

MLAC will oversee the delivery of 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, Northeast Legal Aid, and South Coastal Counties Legal Services.

The program is part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Eviction Diversion Initiative, to support tenants and landlords facing financial challenges caused by the pandemic. The goal of this initiative is to keep tenants safely in their homes and to support the ongoing expenses of landlords after the Commonwealth’s pause of evictions and foreclosures expired on October 17.

“The adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income Massachusetts residents cannot be overstated,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “It’s my great hope that the assistance made available through this project will really make a difference in the lives of the thousands of tenants facing eviction and keep families in safe housing.”

The CELH project will provide referrals, legal information, assistance, and legal representation in all sittings of the Massachusetts Housing Court, including the lawyer for the day program, to preserve or achieve housing stability. When possible, it will also provide legal assistance in District Courts with high-volume summary process caseloads and to prevent the termination of subsidies prior to court to avert eviction.

MLAC will partner with Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Volunteer Lawyers Project to develop two initiatives:
– Rapid recruitment and training of lawyers and paralegals for temporary, fulltime paid positions with regional legal aid organizations across the Commonwealth to provide support and legal representation at all stages of the eviction process, including assistance prior to a court filing, and
– Rapid expansion of the pool of pro bono attorneys who are available to provide support and legal representation to income eligible landlords and tenants, at all stages of the eviction process, with support, training, and supervision from attorneys experienced in landlord-tenant law.

END

About MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth established MLAC in 1983 to ensure that low-income people facing critical non-criminal legal issues would have access to legal information, advice, and representation.

For more info, please visit mlac.org

On Twitter @CivilLegalAid

MLAC applauds $29M for Civil Legal Aid in House Ways and Means Budget

In COVID’s wake, grateful for funding needed more than ever, says Lynne Parker

BOSTON, November 5, 2020 — Today the House Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2021 budget, including $29 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation 0321-1600 – a $5 million increase over FY 20.

Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC applauded the funding increase, calling it an important recognition of the devastating impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on low-income people. “We thank House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing additional funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that is needed now more than ever,” she said. “They recognize the need for this additional funding to aid vulnerable people at risk of losing their income, benefits, housing, and other necessary protections to keep them safe and healthy during the pandemic.”

Parker also thanks many members of the House for their support of this increased funding, noting how many legislators appreciate the work done for their communities through local civil legal aid offices. She also praises the Equal Justice Coalition that has championed the essential work of civil legal aid during the pandemic, 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 in every corner of the Commonwealth.

“This budget recognizes the surge of need for civil legal aid and will help MLAC fund front-line lawyers and advocates to assist thousands more people who otherwise would not receive assistance in resolving serious legal issues that threaten their health, safety, and financial stability,” Parker said.

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About MLAC The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth established MLAC in 1983 to ensure that low-income people facing critical non-criminal legal issues would have access to legal information, advice, and representation. For more info, please visit mlac.org

On Twitter @CivilLegalAid

MLAC statement on the passing of Chief Justice Gants

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants. He was a true champion of civil rights and equal access to justice for all people, and his untimely death is a devastating loss for the Massachusetts legal community.

Chief Justice Gants spoke annually at the Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. He believed funding legal aid was a “moral obligation.” He told lawyers that advocating for legal aid funding was a chance to speak “for all those who have neither money nor power, but who might have the law on their side, if only they knew how to use it. Feel their hand on your shoulder. Speak their truth.”

His passing is a terrible loss for all those who seek justice. We at MLAC will miss him as an inspiring leader and as a deeply caring man who radiated good humor, humility, courtesy and kindness. His gentle, yet urgent, advocacy inspired us all to do better. He has been, and will continue to be, a reminder of what is good in the world.

We send our deepest condolences to his family. And we are confident his legacy will inspire a passion for justice in many generations to come.

Marijane Benner Browne, Board Chair, and Lynne Parker, Executive Director
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

A civil justice crisis is coming – Much greater funding for legal aid is needed

This piece was published by Commonwealth Magazine on September 10, 2020

Susan Finegan and Lynne Parker

THE COVID-19 CRISIS has come at Massachusetts in waves: a public health emergency, an economic collapse, a widening of racial disparities, and now, an overwhelming need for legal help. In response, the Commonwealth must fully support the essential work of civil legal aid, which helps low-income people retain housing, stay safe from domestic abuse, appeal rejected claims for unemployment and other public benefits, and resolve a host of other civil legal problems that are growing in the virus’s wake. As a result of the pandemic, the rising demand for civil legal aid in Massachusetts is straining existing resources and requires greater funding on the state level.

We are in this pandemic together, but we’re not all in it equally. Legal aid lawyers serve as essential workers on the front line, sounding the alarm that a justice crisis is imminent, disproportionately threatening the health, safety, and financial stability of low-income people—particularly low-income people of color. Systemic racism, underscored by recent protests following the deaths of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other black people, permeates every aspect of society. And low-income people of all racial identities often lack the resources to maintain their financial stability through a major illness or job loss.

Civil legal issues can be serious and life-altering. But unlike in criminal cases, where lawyers are provided for people who cannot afford them, there is no constitutional right to a lawyer in every civil case. Even before the crisis, lean funding limited capacity and forced legal aid organizations to turn away the majority of low-income people who sought help. For those who can get help, civil legal aid organizations provide advice and representation at no cost to low-income residents. When the pandemic hit Massachusetts, legal aid organizations across the state mobilized to help people stave off unlawful eviction, file for unemployment, obtain restraining orders, and navigate matters in immigration court. The need is enormous and still growing, overtaxing legal aid organizations that were already stretched thin. The efforts of volunteer lawyers, while essential, cannot come close to meeting the need.

The faltering economy and skyrocketing unemployment mean more people in Massachusetts will be eligible for legal aid than before the coronavirus struck. Many will be families who had never turned to public benefits, but who now need help receiving benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, or unemployment insurance. A tidal wave of eviction and foreclosure cases is building. While Massachusetts has placed a temporary moratorium on evictions, mounting debt puts tenants at grave risk of homelessness when it expires.

The growing number of people who urgently need assistance includes people trapped with an abusive partner; students with disabilities, who still have a right to an equal education; older adults vulnerable to neglect; consumers confronted with scams or unexpected debt; prisoners, whose sentence should not include a life-threatening illness; and undocumented immigrants facing the prospect of deportation amid a global emergency.

The Massachusetts Legislature has consistently demonstrated broad support for legal aid. That said, the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 will continue to generate a surge of need that will overwhelm our legal aid system unless adequate funding is provided. Substantial and sustained support for civil legal aid must be part of the Commonwealth’s answer to the pandemic.

Just as doctors and nurses warned us about the public health emergency they knew was coming, civil legal aid lawyers now warn us of a civil justice crisis that is crashing upon Massachusetts. If we ignore these warnings, the consequences will be dire for families across the state. We must listen to these frontline responders and provide the resources they need to deliver justice for all.

Susan Finegan is a partner at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo and co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. Lynne Parker is executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.