Pro Bono News

Massachusetts Right to Counsel Legislation Gains Urgency Amid Rising Number of Evictions

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Massachusetts Right to Counsel Legislation Gains Urgency Amid Rising Number of Evictions

"Legislation is pending in Massachusetts that would provide legal counsel to lower-income tenants facing eviction.

If passed—and supporters say the bill has momentum given the rising number of evictions—Boston would become the third major U.S. city, after New York and San Francisco, with what is known as right to counsel available to qualifying tenants.

Not surprisingly, New York and San Francisco, like Boston, happen to be among the most expensive cities in the nation for renting an apartment. What’s more, all three—and their surrounding regions—suffer from a chronic housing crunch, ensuring stiff competition for available housing.

The consequences of this hyper-competitive, hyper-expensive market are striking when it comes to evictions. A new report from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting that the Boston Globe published online on February 19 lays out some startling stats:

Eviction initiations in Massachusetts spiked in 2008, following the Great Recession. Each year since then, landlords have sued about 40,000 heads of household across the state seeking to evict them, according to data gathered by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The state doesn’t track how many of these have resulted in actual evictions, but the Eviction Lab at Princeton University found that in 2016, there were roughly 15,708 forced removals in Massachusetts—an average of nearly 43 a day. That’s about double the number of evictions in 2005, before the housing bubble burst...

Proponents of providing legal aid to lower-income tenants in eviction proceedings say such a guarantee would have a twofold benefit.

One, it would curb the displacement that these evictions cause—a lawyer in housing court can make the difference between getting booted from a home and holding on to it. And, two, right to counsel could save the state and localities millions annually in terms of sheltering or subsidizing those who are displaced..."

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