Tag Archive for: The Boston Globe

‘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.

Read more in The Boston Globe.

State launches investigation into Boston Public Schools transportation, special education (Various outlets)

The state of Massachusetts has launched an investigation into whether Boston Public Schools is violating the educational rights of students with disabilities, following a complaint filed on Oct. 14 by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Greater Boston Legal Services, and several other organizations on behalf of the families of six students. The complaint called on BPS to address the impact of its transportation problems on students with disabilities, students of color and those who speak other languages.

Below are excerpts from the news coverage.

The Boston Globe (Oct. 25):

Jakira Rogers, who leads the racial equity and access program at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said she and other group representatives met Monday with Skipper and district administrators from BPS’s special education and transportation office.

“The complaint was a follow-up, really after the long systemic issue has really blown up and families are struggling with transportation,” Rogers said, emphasizing the unreliability creates barriers to special education support and services and hinders parents’ ability to maintain employment.“Transportation is just not about school buses, it’s about access to education, and access to a free and appropriate education. That’s what all students deserve, and that’s what we will continue to fight for until we get there.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

WCVB (Oct. 25):

Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children wrote in their complaint that the transportation system is continuing to fail students and their families.

“The long-standing non-compliance with DESE’s monitoring and failure to improve the transportation system continues to have widespread negative impacts on Boston students and families,” advocates wrote in the complaint. “This school year, students are not receiving appropriate or consistent transportation services. Parents are being forced to pick up and drop off their children, experiencing weeks without consistent transportation for their children. Students with disabilities, who may require door-to-door transportation, bus monitors, or other accommodations, are not receiving these special education services to address their specific needs. Buses are failing to pick students up on time, to drop them off at school on time, and to get them home on time. Parents are not receiving prompt, accurate notifications of issues with transportation services. Some families are receiving last-minute notice of changes to transportation services, not receiving notifications at all, or are not receiving any communications in the language of the home.”

Read more from WCVB.

Boston.com (Nov. 10):

Special education students, and especially those who are not white, are disproportionately impacted by the transportation system’s failures, said Jakira Rogers, a program lead at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. The organization, along with Greater Boston Legal Services, filed the aforementioned complaint with state officials. 

“Those in power… must address the exclusion of Black and Latinx students within Boston Public Schools. When I say ‘exclusion,’ I’m referring to the multiple ways in which Black and Latinx students with disabilities are pushed out of schools and away from their education,” Rogers said. “It’s not a secret who inadequate transportation disproportionately impacts.”

The problems are larger than just buses being late, Rogers said. When students miss school time because of transportation issues, they are being denied their legal right to a free public education, and some special education students are missing hours of learning time on a regular basis, she added. 

Read more from Boston.com.

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.

With aid drying up, advocates fear wave of evictions (The Boston Globe)

The Boston Globe quoted Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Staff Attorney Andrea Park (pictured above) in an Oct. 12 article examining the impact of waning COVID-era relief funds and legal protections for tenants. New rental assistance requirements and fewer available funds have led to an uptick in eviction filings. Below is an excerpt from the article.

The most drastic change to rent relief is the one Bertelson faced: the requirement tenants receive a Notice To Quit.

Legally, notices are not enough to boot tenants from their homes, said Andrea Park, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. Yet most are threaded with strong legalistic language that threatens eviction. As a result, she added, some tenants leave their apartments in fear, rather than staying put and fighting.

Park said the state failed to consider how requiring the notice could trigger other problems, such as the impact on tenants’ credit scores and their ability to secure housing in the future.

“There’s this perception that it’s just a letter,” she added. “But that’s underselling the power of the NTQ.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

When migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, a spirited team of Massachusetts lawyers jumped to help (The Boston Globe)

Emily Leung, supervising immigration attorney at the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts (a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services), was featured in an Oct. 7 Boston Globe article alongside immigration lawyers Susan Church, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Rachel Self and Julio Henriquez for their work managing the legal response on the ground to assist asylum-seekers flown to Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

“The scramble in those early days — and the continued advocacy since then — exhibited, once again, the force of a spirited team of Massachusetts immigration lawyers, far from the southern border but able to flex their clout and power in the name of their advocacy. Their work put Massachusetts on the national map when it came to fighting Trump immigration policies and, now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial relocation program.

Among those who joined Self on the Vineyard early on were some of the state’s most high-profile immigration attorneys: Susan Church, of the Cambridge-based law firm Demissie and Church; Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston’s Lawyers for Civil Rights; and Emily Leung, of The Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts.”

Read more in The Boston Globe. Leung and other advocates also spoke at a Boston Bar Association issue briefing about the crisis on Oct. 13.

With funding low, many legal cases going undefended

An article in The Boston Globe from October 14 highlights the need for more funding for Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations. The full article is copied below.

Massachusetts legal aid organizations turned away nearly two-thirds of people qualifying for civil legal assistance over the last year due to a lack of funding, leaving thousands of low-income residents without representation in cases from domestic violence to foreclosure, according to the findings of a statewide task force to be released Wednesday.

More than 30,000 low-income clients were denied legal services in 2013, meaning many were unable to pursue cases or were left to represent themselves in court, where they often lost their cases, according to the 37-page report.

“The overused word ‘crisis’ actually applies here,” said Harvard Law School’s dean, Martha Minow, a member of the task force. “When you have people who are literally not represented in actions where they can lose their homes or face physical violence, where they can’t get legal remedies to which they’re entitled, there’s a failure to live up to the rule of law.”

At least two dozen of 134 lawyers and staff at Greater Boston Legal Services have been laid off since 2008 and another nine will leave due to further cuts at year’s end.

The 32-member task force, which also included Fidelity Investments counsel Jonathan Chiel, EMC Corp. general counsel Paul T. Dacier, and Governor Deval Patrick’s chief legal counsel, Katherine Cook, was convened by the Boston Bar Association. It studied the state of civil legal aid in Massachusetts for 18 months.

Unlike criminal cases, in which legal representation is guaranteed by the Constitution, there is no such guarantee in civil cases. These cases are often taken by lawyers working for free, and by legal aid attorneys in agencies partially funded with taxpayer money.

Much of civil legal aid work is financed by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, an arcane fund generated from the pooled interest paid on small amounts of money that lawyers hold in trust for clients. That fund has shrunk dramatically in recent years, due to historically low bank interest rates.

In 2007, the fund generated nearly $32 million in annual interest; this year, it is expected to shrink to $4.5 million.

“We have a staggering problem funding legal aid in Massachusetts,” said Julia Huston, president of the Boston Bar Association. “There is a tremendous need, and that need has become more dire given the economic conditions of the last few years.”

Massachusetts spends about $15 million yearly for legal aid. The report calls on the state to provide an additional $30 million over the next three years.

The task force surveyed 13 major legal service agencies, including Greater Boston Legal Services, collecting data over three separate weeks in 2013 and annualizing it. The report characterized the findings as “stunning and discouraging.”

Overall, only one in three people who qualified for help received it, the survey found. In cases, involving family law, such as child custody and domestic abuse, four of five eligible clients were turned away. In consumer and employment cases, nearly three out of four could not get legal help.

“A whopping 11,843 disadvantaged individuals or families facing eviction or foreclosure were turned away over the course of one year,” the report said.

Ginette Brillant, a Haitian immigrant who worked at Beth Israel Hospital for 25 years, is an example of the impact that legal aid can have, according to the report. Brillant put $20,000 down on a house in Randolph and paid $1,700 a month in a rent-to-own arrangement. She later learned that her broker was a scam artist and that the house was in foreclosure.

She asked the bank’s property manager to make much-needed repairs because water was leaking from the master bedroom and bathroom ceilings. The repairs were not made, despite orders by the board of health, and the ceiling eventually collapsed, according to the report.

With help from an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, Brillant eventually won a judgment of nearly $50,000 in damages from the bank plus $30,000 in attorney’s fees.

Dick Bauer, a senior lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services, said if no one had represented Brillant, she probably would have been evicted, lost her deposit, and ended up in a homeless shelter or motel.

“We’re talking mostly about people with kids,” he said, who often end up “under a bridge or spending the night in an emergency room of a hospital.”

The task force also surveyed judges, with 80 responding. More than 60 percent of the judges said the number of litigants without representation increased following the economic downturn.

Nearly 90 percent of judges said evidence was improperly presented in 90 percent of the cases in which people were not represented by lawyers. More than 60 percent said that the lack of legal representation hindered the court’s ability to ensure equal justice.

The report argued that the benefits of representing eligible people in eviction and foreclosure proceedings far outweighed the costs of providing services. It estimated that providing legal help to the poorest families and individuals alone would save the state about $25.5 million in emergency shelter services and other costs.

Read the article in The Boston Globe