Amherst, Mass., is a pleasant college town with nearly as many students as permanent residents. It’s no surprise, then, that affordable housing is in high demand. The state considers just 11 percent of Amherst units to be affordable for low or moderate incomes, and that number is steadily decreasing.
In 2013, there was a change of ownership at Echo Village, one of the last affordable apartment complexes in town. Resident TracyLee was devastated when she learned that the new owner wanted to increase her rent. A single mother of two teenage sons, TracyLee receives a subsidy from Amherst’s Housing Authority, which doesn’t allow her landlord to charge more than $1,400 a month in rent.
TracyLee’s worst fears were confirmed when she found out that her new rent would be around $1,800 a month. The owner knew that TracyLee and many other tenants wouldn’t be able to afford the rent if they lost their subsidy, so he moved to evict them, citing business and economic reasons.
“My stomach dropped when I saw the eviction letter,” TracyLee recalls. “We didn’t do anything wrong, but an eviction just feels so personal. This is where my kids have grown up.”
She prepared for the worst, thinking about the dimensions of her storage shelter and wondering what living in a car would be like. At the same time, she was reaching out for help. Eventually, TracyLee found Community Legal Aid (CLA) in Northampton. They agreed to work with her and the other tenants facing eviction to see if there was a way that they could remain in their homes.
CLA attorney Jennifer Dieringer and AmeriCorps advocate Liz Alfred discovered that the landlord had failed to properly terminate the tenancy before issuing the eviction notice. They filed suit in housing court to stop the eviction. In August 2013, the judge ruled in favor of TracyLee and dismissed the eviction.
TracyLee continues to work with CLA to find ways of keeping Echo Village affordable for families like hers. She’s hopeful that she and her children will be able to remain in their home.
“Everywhere we were turning, we were hearing that nothing could be done,” TracyLee says. It was a ‘no’ on everything. But legal aid fought for us. To put it simply, we had a champion.”