Zombie 2nd mortgages are coming to life, threatening thousands of Americans’ homes (WFAE)

Below is an excerpt from an article published on May 18 by WFAE, discussing the recent surge in “Zombie mortgages” and their implications for hundreds of thousands of Americans. National Consumer Law Center’s Adrea Bopp Stark is quoted.

One spring morning two years ago, Karen McDonough was having tea at her dining room table. She lives in a cozy little two-bedroom house in Quincy, Massachusetts. She looked out her window and saw something unusual.

“There were like 20 cars, and they all came at the same time and they parked in front of my house, across the street, up the street,” McDonough said. “I just had this feeling like something really bad had happened … like maybe somebody in the neighborhood died.”

Something bad was definitely happening — to her.

McDonough put on her shoes, went out to the driveway and approached a group of men, casually dressed, milling around on the lawn. One had a clipboard and seemed to be in charge.

“He had a piece of paper, and I said, ‘What’s happening?’ And he goes, ‘We’re selling your house.'”

It was a foreclosure auction on her home.

Read more at WFAE.

Letter: In Second Chance Month and every month, legal assistance is available (Berkshire Eagle)

Below is an excerpt from a letter to the editor published by the Berkshire Eagle on April 27 about resources, misconceptions, and more involving those returning from incarceration. Community Legal Aid’s Staff Attorney, Annie Maurer, penned the letter.

To the editor: April is Second Chance Month, a time to focus on how our community can support our fellow Berkshire County residents returning from incarceration.

As an attorney with Community Legal Aid’s CORI/reentry unit, I see the life-changing power that sealing a criminal record has every day. Sealing is the process by which a criminal record is removed from public access, including access by employers and housing providers. Sealed records remain available to law enforcement, the courts and a few other select agencies.

I routinely assist people denied employment due to a criminal record that could have already been sealed. These are individuals with reliance, grit and valuable life experience who seek our assistance because, despite the hard work they’ve put into bettering their lives and those of their families, potential employers cannot see past the record.

Read more at the Berkshire Eagle.

Rental Applicants Using Housing Vouchers Settle Ground-Breaking Discrimination Class Action Against SafeRent Solutions (ABC)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by ABC on April 26 about a settlement that, if approved, will provide over $2 million to tenants with housing vouchers who were disproportionately discriminated against by SafeRent Solutions and its algorithmic screening program. Greater Boston Legal Services’ Senior Housing Attorney Todd Kaplan and National Consumer Law Center’s Shennan Kavanagh are quoted.

BOSTON, MA / ACCESSWIRE / April 26, 2024 / On April 25, 2024, the Honorable Angel Kelley for the United States District Court of Massachusetts allowed a $2.275 million settlement on behalf of Massachusetts housing voucher recipients to move forward, certifying the settlement classes and directing notice to be sent to class members. The Court will hold a final approval hearing in November. The settlement, if finally approved, will resolve a lawsuit against SafeRent Solutions, a national tenant screening provider formerly known as CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, claiming that SafeRent’s algorithmic tenant screening program (the “SafeRent Score”) disproportionately harmed housing voucher recipients, including Black and Hispanic individuals, under Massachusetts law protecting individuals based on their source of income and race. In July 2023, the Court denied SafeRent’s motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Massachusetts Discrimination Law claims.

The pending settlement provides for significant injunctive relief to tenant applicants who rely on vouchers and may be subjected to SafeRent tenant screening. It would require a more robust evaluation of prospective housing voucher tenants’ eligibility for housing based on their full record rather than relying on a score derived though an algorithm. If SafeRent develops another tenant screening score it wishes to use after five years, it would have to be validated by an independent third-party organization agreed to by the Plaintiffs. This injunctive relief would establish precedent for the tenant screening industry.

Read more here.

Court ruling turns up heat on Mass. tax lien law that costs homeowners their equity (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by GBH on April 22 highlighting a recent Hampden County court case decision that cracks down on predatory Massachusetts tax lien practices. Greater Boston Legal Services’ Senior Housing Attorney Todd Kaplan is quoted

A new ruling from the Hampden Superior Court in Springfield has found that a Massachusetts law permitting cities and towns to take homes or other real estate from tax delinquent owners – including their equity – is unconstitutional.

The ruling echoes a similar conclusion from the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The Hampden decision marks the first time a Massachusetts court has declared unconstitutional this longstanding practice by dozens of cities and towns in the state. Housing attorneys and lawmakers told GBH News it could spur more action by state courts and the legislature to abolish the practice.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court decided unanimously that tax lien foreclosures that also take property owners’ equity — beyond the tax bills they owe — are unconstitutional. And many critics say Massachusetts has acted too slowly to bring its laws in line with nation’s highest court’s decision.

Read more at GBH.

‘Transformative’ agreement will help thousands of people leave Mass. nursing homes

Below is an excerpt from an article published by GBH on April 17 discussing a recent agreement that will help thousands of Massachusetts residents transition out of nursing homes. Center for Public Representation’s Steven Schwartz and Greater Boston Legal Services’ Deborah Filler are quoted

Thousands of people who have been “warehoused” in Massachusetts nursing homes due to insufficient alternatives could soon receive the support they need to live independently.

Gov. Maura Healey’s administration on Tuesday announced that they reached an agreement on a federal class action lawsuit, filed in October 2022 in Boston, which contended Massachusetts was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing tens of thousands of people with disabilities to languish in nursing facilities, even though they could live on their own with proper support services. The David Marsters v. Maura Healey agreement, still subject to court approval, will expand and create new programs to help people transition out of facilities.

Disability advocates are praising the agreement and its potential to dramatically restructure how the state supports elderly residents and people with disabilities.

“We really believe it’s going to transform Massachusetts’ long-term services for people with disabilities in the community,” said Steven Schwartz, special counsel with the Center for Public Representation, one of the groups that represented the plaintiffs.

Read more at GBH.

Loss of federally-subsidized internet program will affect hundreds of thousands of Mass. families

Listen to WBUR’s radio segment discussing the impact of the loss of a federally-subsidized internet program in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s Virigina Benzan joins Mary Magner to discuss. Learn more below.

The federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) program, which offered qualified participants a $30 monthly benefit to help with internet bills, is winding down. What does that mean for Massachusetts families?

Mary Magner, an ACP participant in Brighton, and Virginia Benzan, of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, join Radio Boston to discuss.

Listen to the segment here.

After Reforms to Solitary Confinement, Massachusetts Prisoners Say Officials Just Renamed It (Bolts)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by Bolts Magazine on March 29, drawing attention to the violations of solitary confinement reform conditions set out in Massachusetts. Prisoner’s Legal Services’ Jesse White and Bonnie Tenneriello are quoted. 

Massachusetts prison officials put Elosko Brown in isolated housing in 2020 after accusing him of participating in an altercation with guards that January at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the state’s maximum-security prison for men. Brown, who disputes the charge, says prison officials had different names for the units they put him in—the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU) at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Cedar Junction, where he lived until 2021, and the Secure Adjustment Unit (SAU) at Souza, where he’s currently incarcerated and remains in isolation four years later.

But whatever the names, Brown and other people incarcerated in these units say they only replicated the punitive solitary conditions that triggered state reforms several years ago, evading the reforms’ goal to reduce prolonged isolation in the Massachusetts prison system. Over the past year, Brown and others incarcerated in state prisons who say they suffer from long-term isolation have gone to great lengths to protest their conditions and advocate lawmakers for reforms—from launching a hunger strike last October to testifying remotely before a legislative committee in January.

Read more at Bolts Magazine.

Local officials ramp up push to phase out third-party electric providers (WBUR)

National Consumer Law Center’s Jennifer Bosco joins Boston Globe Reporter Sabrina Shankman to discuss reports of predatory practice by third-party electric providers in Massachusetts. Below is an introduction to their radio segment.

Massachusetts’ decision to deregulate its energy market was supposed to create increased competition and drive the price down for consumers.

But as reporting from WBUR and the Boston Globe found out, advocates say some suppliers prey on low-income, elderly and minority consumers and over-charge clients despite originally promising lower rates.

Some legislators say the system has become too problematic to regulate. State Attorney General Andrea Campbell and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu have recently joined calls to shut the competitive energy market down altogether. But others want to increase regulation on the industry instead.

Boston Globe reporter Sabrina Shankman joins Radio Boston to talk about the report along with Jenifer Bosco, senior attorney at the Boston-based nonprofit National Consumer Law Center.

Listen to the segment here.

Advocates say it’s time to expand the definition of domestic violence (GBH)


Below is an excerpt from an article published on March 22 by GBH. The article explores the meaning of domestic violence and the movement in Massachusetts to expand it. Mass Law Reform Institute’s Director of Advocacy, Jamie Sabino, is quoted.

Massachusetts could join a small group of states expanding the definition of domestic violence to include acts of coercive control.

The Senate bill passed on Thursday not only amends the state’s criminal harassment law and establishes clear penalties for sharing sexually explicit images or videos without the subject’s consent, it would also expand the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control, which advocates say is at the heart of domestic abuse.

“The act of sharing intimate images without someone’s consent is a way of degrading, humiliating, holding some kind of power over another individual. So it is a form of coercive control,” said Hema Sarang-Sieminski, the deputy director of Jane Doe Inc., a local domestic violence survivor advocacy coalition.

Coercive control can also appear as isolating a person from friends and family, controlling their finances, or tracking their movement and communications. Advocates say these kinds of controlling behaviors often lead to later violence.

Read more at GBH.

Here’s what could change for the embattled Bridgewater State Hospital (MassLive)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by MassLive on March 20 discussing the impact of a recently released report by the Disability Law Center on Bridgewater State Hospital.

Last week, a watchdog group released a damning report about the Massachusetts Department of Corrections’ Bridgewater State Hospital — a psychiatric hospital for men who have been accused or convicted of a crime. Major changes could be in store for the hospital in coming months.

The 46-page report from Disability Law Center — a Boston-based disability advocacy nonprofit — alleges a litany of eye-popping patient abuses at the hospital, including involuntary restraint through medication, physical violence from staff, seclusion for all but a handful of hours and negligent medical care.

Patient stories in the report made Bridgewater State Hospital sound like the psychiatric hospitals of a previous era that are now most often featured in horror media. The nonprofit detailed accounts of patients being dragged to a bed to be forcibly injected with a restraint drug, left alone and naked in their room for weeks and wasting away with little to no medical or mental health care in a dangerously moldy and decrepit building.

Read more at MassLive.