Rogers-Day counsel bill used in Baker eviction initiative

Dave RogersRogers

State Reps. David M. Rogers (D-Cambridge) and Michael S. Day (D-Stoneham) jointly filed at the beginning of the 191st session, H.1537, an act establishing a right to counsel in certain eviction cases. On Monday, Oct. 12, the Baker administration announced a comprehensive set of resources, the Eviction Diversion Initiative, to support tenants and landlords facing financial challenges caused by the pandemic that includes funding for this priority legislation. 

The goal of the eviction initiative is to keep tenants safely in their homes and to support the ongoing expenses of landlords, as the Commonwealth’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expired Saturday, Oct. 17.

A major prong of the initiative is an investment in increased legal representation and support for income-eligible tenants and property owners navigating ongoing housing issues. The initiative draws directly on the work done this session by Rogers and Day, the Right to Counsel Coalition and the Right to Counsel Advisory Committee, an Oct. 16 news release from Rogers's office says.

"These advocates understand that this issue is not something unique to the pandemic," the release says. "Financially struggling tenants and property owners will continue to face housing issues and they will need legal representation to assist them with navigating the housing courts in the future."

“The need for proper legal guidance for individuals facing a housing crisis has never been more important than it is now, and I am happy to see Governor Baker recognizing that with this first step forward,” says Representative Day. “Expanding access to legal representation for tenants and landlords will avert unnecessary evictions, displacement and homelessness and result in resolutions that are fair to both parties. I am committed to continuing working with Representative Rogers and other stakeholders to expand and make permanent this right to counsel so that all parties have fundamental due process in these situations.”

“The public health emergency crisis has amplified long-building inequities across the Commonwealth, including significant disparity in housing security,” Rogers says in the release. “It is absolutely essential that individuals and families in economic distress are not displaced or unnecessarily burdened during this public health emergency. I am fully committed to working with Representative Day and others to advocate for the creation of a civil right to counsel; our advocacy helped secure this critical funding. While we’re grateful for this important step, people across the Commonwealth continue to face extraordinary challenges, so we need to keep seeking both short- and long-term solutions to our affordable housing crisis.“

The Baker administration announced that it will allocate $12.3 million to provide tenants and landlords with access to legal representation and related services before and during the eviction process, as well as community meditation to help tenants and landlords resolve cases outside of court. The goal is to bring landlords and tenants together to avoid an eviction.

In coordination with the trial court, Massachusetts is working to launch a new Community Mediation program that will be available prior to a court filing, and supplemental court provided mediation that is generally available after a filing has been made. Funding will also be provided to the Trial Courts to support bringing back recall judges to accommodate the caseload once the moratorium ends and to add additional housing specialists to help mediate agreements.

Further, Massachusetts will provide additional funding for posteviction diversion, helping households to find new housing quickly and prevent a longer period of homelessness. It is estimated that up to 25,000 households will have access to legal support or community mediation as a result of this action. 

If you are in need of assistance, please call 211, visit the frequently asked questions website here, and see the fact sheet here.    

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This news announcement was published Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.