‘I’m at my wit’s end’: Welcome to the underbelly of the region’s housing crisis (The Boston Globe)
Attorneys Zoe Cronin of Greater Boston Legal Services and Rochelle Jones of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, both pictured above, were featured in a Nov. 12 Boston Globe article for their work representing people in housing court in the aftermath of COVID eviction moratoria expiring.
An excerpt of the article is below.
Criminal court proceedings where the defendant faces possible prison time guarantees the right to a defense lawyer, but there is no such safety net for housing court. This means that many tenants who can’t afford a lawyer are battling potential eviction by taking it upon themselves to duel with polished attorneys representing landlords.The tenants often struggle to navigate the complexities of housing law and courtroom procedure. Louis is one of the lucky ones. She has legal representation: Zoe Cronin from Greater Boston Legal Services.
Many tenants are not so fortunate.
As of the end of October, there were 15,556 residential eviction cases brought this year in Massachusetts for non-payment of rent. Those cases include 21,629 defendants, the vast, vast majority of whom are defending themselves without a hired attorney. (Nearly 97 percent are pro se.) By contrast, only about 12 percent of landlords who bring forward eviction cases do so without a lawyer to represent them, according to statistics from the Massachusetts Trial Court.
Volunteer lawyers help both pro se tenants and landlords craft motions or offer representation during a mediation session, and, in some cases they offer full representation. The “lawyer for a day” program sets up shop outside a bank of courtrooms on the fifth floor. Many tenants, said Rochelle Jones, the housing and appeals staff attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Project, struggle to articulate and defend themselves, to explain to the court what is happening in their living situation.
“The legal system is complicated, it’s complex,” she said.