Tag Archive for: Greater Boston Legal Services

Consolidation of senior care homes is uprooting hundreds across Massachusetts (The Boston Globe)

The Northeast Justice Center, a subsidiary of Northeast Legal Aid, and Greater Boston Legal Services senior attorney Betsey Crimmins (pictured above) were mentioned in an Oct. 9 Boston Globe article for their efforts to assist residents of long-term care homes amid a wave of closures and consolidations. An excerpt of the article is below.

Hundreds of older folks, many with disabilities, are being uprooted from long-term care homes across Massachusetts this fall in the wake of a brutal pandemic that claimed the lives of nearly 6,900 senior care residents and destabilized an already fragile sector.

Landmark was initially slated to close on Oct. 5. Its remaining residents got a reprieve after officials from the Boston Center for Independent Living and the Northeast Justice Center urged state elder affairs officials to press Landmark’s management to hold off on evictions.

Greater Boston Legal Services also threatened to sue Landmark if it didn’t give residents more time to find housing. “These are vulnerable people who had no recourse,” said the group’s senior attorney Betsey Crimmins.

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Trafficking Inc.: Forced labor in Massachusetts (GBH News)

Two legal aid attorneys—Caddie Nath-Folsom of the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services—were quoted in an Oct. 11 GBH News article about labor trafficking. Below is an excerpt.

“Most people have interacted with someone who is being trafficked and don’t realize it,” said Nath-Folsom, who works with the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts. “Think of it more as someone who is being forced to work in terrible conditions, usually dangerous conditions, for unfair or no pay. And they can’t leave.”

And abusers are almost never held accountable. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a human trafficking law in 2011 to help victims and to prosecute perpetrators. But there hasn’t been a single forced labor conviction since the law passed, an investigation by the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

In the meantime, attorney Audrey Richardson is still trying to seek help for her client Melba.

Read more at GBH News.

SJC says Boston judge erred in denying marijuana expungement

A Sept. 8 Boston Globe article quoted Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Pauline Quirion, director of the CORI and Re-Entry Project at GBLS. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a Boston judge “abused his discretion” when he denied a request by a former defendant to permanently erase legal records of two marijuana possession arrests in the early 2000s.

The unanimous opinion, written by Associate Justice Serge Georges Jr., found that people previously arrested for cannabis crimes that have since been legalized are entitled to “a strong presumption in favor of expungement.” It orders a lower court to grant the request and effectively removes the power of state judges to deny similar petitions, unless they can cite a “significant countervailing concern.”

“This is huge,” said Quirion, the lead attorney for GBLS, who represented the former defendant in the case. “It’s a fabulous decision that reflects basic common sense: It’s clearly unjust to have to carry a criminal record for something that’s no longer a crime.”

By easing the path for other former defendants to obtain expungements, Quirion added, the SJC’s ruling would “help deal with the harm to communities of color that was inflicted by the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies.”

Read more in The Boston Globe and in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

How a Massachusetts law meant to help victims is working against them

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Deputy Director of Advocacy Jamie Sabino and Greater Boston Legal Services Senior Attorney Mithra Merryman were interviewed recently by WBUR regarding a law that was intended to protect the privacy and safety of victims of domestic and sexual violence, but has instead protected perpetrators and police. The Massachusetts law requires police to keep all reports and arrests related to sexual and domestic violence secret, something no other state does.

In fact, 16 police departments turned down WBUR’s request for records detailing their actions leading up to domestic murders, all citing the same statute.

It has also harmed victims by making it difficult ⁠— even impossible ⁠— to obtain records they need for custody battles and restraining orders.

Sabino, staff attorney at MLRI, said she was concerned about potential “unintended consequences” even as she helped advise lawmakers on the language in the 2014 bill.

Read more and listen to coverage at WBUR (Aug. 27 and Aug. 29).

SafeRent Solutions accused of illegally discriminating against Black and Hispanic rental applicants

Greater Boston Legal Services, the National Consumer Law Center, and law firm Cohen Milstein filed a federal lawsuit on May 25 against SafeRent Solutions, LLC alleging that the national tenant screening provider has been violating the Fair Housing Act and related state laws for years. SafeRent, formerly known as CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, provides tenant screening services that disproportionately give low scores to Black and Hispanic rental applicants who use federally funded housing vouchers to pay the vast majority of their rent, causing them to be denied housing.  The lawsuit alleges that SafeRent’s algorithm has a disparate impact based on race and source of income, in violation of federal and state laws.

“As stated in the complaint, while SafeRent considers applicants’ credit history, including credit-related information, including non-tenancy debts, and eviction history in calculating SafeRent Scores,” said Todd Kaplan, senior attorney at GBLS, “SafeRent’s algorithm does not consider the financial benefits of housing vouchers in assigning SafeRent Scores. On average over 73% of the monthly rental payment is paid through these vouchers.”

“Racial disparities in credit history and credit scores not only reflect historical racial disparities in wealth, but also perpetuate wealth inequalities through reduced financial opportunities and fewer financial safety nets, which hinder a consumer’s ability to accumulate present or intergenerational wealth through homeownership or other financial investments,” said Ariel Nelson, staff attorney at NCLC.

Read more at NCLC or on Inman, a real estate news source.

GBLS represents residents seeking to buy and preserve Fenway roominghouse

Longtime residents of a Boston roominghouse in the Fenway neighborhood are seeking to acquire the property to maintain its historical use as affordable housing for women and prevent a potential sale to a for-profit developer.

Seven residents of Our Lady’s Guild House submitted a bid on the 20 Charlesgate West property this month. Greater Boston Legal Services is representing the group and will ask the attorney general’s office to block any sale that would convert the building into market-rate apartments, attorney Margaret Turner said.

“The charitable purpose of OLGH Inc. is to provide permanent [single-room occupancy] housing for low and moderate-income women,” Turner said. “The proposed sale to the highest bidder will undermine this purpose.”

Read more in Banker & Tradesman.

Letter: State measure goes too far in its provisions for de facto parents

Laura W. Gal, managing attorney for family law, Greater Boston Legal Services; Heather Gamache, president, Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts; Anna S. Richardson, co-executive director, Veterans Legal Services and Jamie A. Sabino, staff attorney, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, responded on Monday in a letter to The Boston Globe regarding the paper’s editorial, “For LGBTQ parents, unfinished business in the fight for equality.” They write:

“As organizations representing a diverse range of individuals and families, we support enactment of all elements of the proposed Massachusetts Parentage Act that enable families to begin a child’s life with the security of fully recognized legal parents, whether through genetics, marriage, adoption, surrogacy, or reproductive technology. Equity under the law is essential.

The bill’s de facto parent section, however, goes well beyond this necessary goal. It would allow stepparents, grandparents, and other caretakers to use litigation to become third (or fourth, and so on) parents to a child, over the objections of one or both of the child’s fit parents. The Globe’s endorsement of the legislation, seemingly without consideration of the consequences of this section, is disappointing.

The overbroad de facto parent provisions would allow a wide range of court battles that could drag on and destabilize children’s lives for years. Divorced parents would find themselves in court with ex-partners of their ex-spouses. Domestic violence survivors would face harassing litigation from their former abusers. Members of the armed services would be forced to defend cases filed while deployed. These are just a few examples of the implications.

Current Massachusetts law allows de facto parents to request visitation. This serves children well. Expanding de facto parentage would not.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Law meant to clear old convictions, including for marijuana possession, helps few

Pauline Quirion, the lead attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), was quoted in a Nov. 28 Boston Globe article about a case the organization is bringing to the Supreme Judicial Court to appeal the expungement of old cannabis charges.

When state legislators passed a criminal justice reform bill in 2018, Massachusetts residents won the ability to clear away certain criminal records — including convictions for marijuana possession and other now-legal activities — that can make it difficult to land a job, rent an apartment, and otherwise move on with life.

But three years later, only a fraction of those who are likely eligible for relief have had their records expunged.

“The onus ends up being on the individual to know about [the expungement] program and take action,” Quirion said. “The tragedy for a lot of folks is that we usually see them after the fact, when they’ve lost their dream job or something.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Advocates push for boost in welfare payments

…In Massachusetts today, around 30,000 low-income households are receiving cash assistance through Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or TAFDC. Nearly 20,000 additional households, primarily adults who are elderly or have disabilities, receive money from a program called Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children. A family of three on TAFDC receives $593 a month, with the potential for another $40 housing subsidy. A single person on emergency aid for the elderly gets $303. Neither program adjusts grants with inflation. TAFDC was last increased in 2000, and EAEDC in 1988…With the current grants, said Deborah Harris, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute who is spearheading the campaign, “Families really struggle to pay for basic necessities.”…“No matter how carefully you budget, $593 is just not enough to support a family of three in Massachusetts,” said Naomi Meyer, a senior attorney of Greater Boston Legal Services. “We want to make sure that our safety net is playing the role it’s supposed to of actually supporting our families and our kids.” Read more in Commonwealth Magazine.

How civil legal aid assists older adults

This post was first published on Huffington Post.

By Lonnie Powers

The president of the United States is a 71-year-old reality TV star. One of his fiercest critics is the acid-tongued Rep. Maxine Waters, age 79. At age 81, public radio host Diane Rehm married a 78-year-old. At a relatively youthful 68, rock god Bruce Springsteen’s solo acoustic show is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway, while celebrated fiction writer Amy Tan, 65, is earning acclaim for adeptly tackling the art of memoir with “Where the Past Begins.”

These influential older Americans are emblematic of the cultural shift that began in our country when the baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) reached retirement age in 2011—and will continue for decades to come. Census figures show that the number of U.S. residents ages 65 and over grew from 35 million in 2000 to 49.2 million in 2016. The Population Research Bureau says that between 2020 and 2030 the number of seniors will increase by 18 million; by 2060, close to one quarter of Americans will be 65 or older.

The graying of the U.S population affects all areas of our society—from the economy and the labor force to our health care system and federal safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security. A recent POLITICO story about a brewing crisis in the U.S. hospice care system, for example, sounded the alarm on the urgent need for the health care field to quickly adapt if we are to effectively meet the needs of our country’s rapidly ballooning and long-lived senior population.

“With baby boomers aging and likely to live with serious illness for several years, understanding how best to take care of the aged and the dying is becoming an ever more pressing issue in America—emotionally, morally, and financially,” writes POLITICO Health Editor Joanne Kenen. Reinforcing that point, geriatrics expert Joan Teno has said, “We need to address this very quickly. The tsunami of frail elderly people with complex multiple illnesses is coming.”

Indeed, not every older American enjoys the abundant resources of the likes of Bruce Springsteen or the health care and financial security provided by a Congressional retirement plan. Right now, about 6.4 million older Americans live in poverty—defined by the federal government as an annual income of $12,060 or less. While the poverty rate among the elderly has declined over time, senior care experts project that millions of seniors will struggle financially in the coming decades due to cuts to safety net programs, shrinking employee pension programs, longer life spans, rising health care costs, inadequate retirement savings and other demographic and lifestyle factors. Justice in Aging, a civil legal aid organization dedicated to elder issues, projects that by 2030, 72 million seniors will be living in poverty and that senior homelessness will increase by 33 percent by 2020.

Preventing a crisis of elder poverty and helping older adults live safe and fulfilling lives will require greater advocacy from and on behalf of seniors, creative policy making, and new community partnerships. We must also strengthen existing programs that have proven effective in helping vulnerable elders—Social Security, Medicare and Meals on Wheels—and, of course, civil legal aid.

Civil legal aid, which provides free legal assistance and representation to low-income people facing non-criminal legal issues, is a potent tool to assist vulnerable seniors in securing proper health care and housing, to protect them from physical abuse and financial exploitation, and to get access to other benefits and services to help keep them solvent.

In Massachusetts and around the country, many legal services organizations have units dedicated exclusively to addressing the legal needs of the elder population. For example, Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) Elder Abuse Prevention Project, in addition to providing direct services to elder clients, provides training for care providers, community members, and seniors to raise public awareness of the forms such abuse can take. GBLS is playing a role in assisting the increasing number of elders who are falling victim to abuse by opioid addicted family members, a side effect largely overlooked until recently.

The organization recently helped “Pauline,” a 77-year-old Chelsea woman, avoid eviction after her daughter’s unwanted presence in her apartment drew the attention of the woman’s landlord. The daughter had originally moved in with Pauline after GBLS helped the family qualify for a federal stipend that compensated the daughter for caring for Pauline. Unfortunately, the daughter took advantage of the situation, using the apartment for activities prohibited in the lease. Pauline made her daughter move out.

Pauline was injured shortly afterward, requiring hospitalization followed by a stay in a nursing home rehab unit. Unbeknownst to her, Pauline’s daughter had moved back into her apartment during this time, prompting the landlord to initiate an eviction. GBLS, however, negotiated an agreement that enabled Pauline to keep her apartment provided she received care from a different family member and her daughter stayed clear of the premises. GBLS also advocated on Pauline’s behalf to ensure she received proper follow-up care upon discharge from the nursing home. These arrangements enabled Pauline to spend the last two weeks of her life back in the home that she loved and fought so hard to keep.

MetroWest Legal Services’ (MWLS) Senior Citizen’s Legal Project assists elders in central Massachusetts with housing needs, health care directives, nursing home issues, domestic relations, and other issues. In one instance, they prevented Florynce, a senior living alone in Watertown, from becoming homeless after a $500 rent increase forced her to seek a new place to live. Before a MWLS attorney began advocating on Florynce’s behalf, her landlord was refusing to negotiate a lease extension to give Florynce time to obtain senior housing through the local housing authority. The attorney negotiated the lease extension and brought Florynce to the attention of the housing authority director, who approved a measure to give Florynce priority on the housing waiting list. A few weeks before her lease extension expired, an apartment opened up and Florynce made a smooth transition to her new home.

These are but two examples of the life-sustaining assistance that civil legal aid can provide to low-income seniors. As we face a future of assisting and caring for a disproportionately large population of senior Americans, we’ll need innovations in health care, housing, transportation and other infrastructure to adequately and safely meet their needs. But we must also continue critical existing services. Civil legal aid has long been an effective means of advocating for the needs of vulnerable seniors individually and systemically. Given all the looming challenges, now is an opportune time to strengthen and expand our country’s network of civil legal aid programs.

Lonnie Powers is executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.