By Danny McDonald
Via The Boston Globe
It is morning in Eastern Housing Court, and Frances Louis is seated on a bench in the gallery of a courtroom, waiting for her case to be called.
Outwardly, she appears calm, given the gravity of the case, but later she will admit to having “a headache that won’t quit.” Her landlord is trying to evict her from her Roxbury home of 12 years, where she lives with her parents, both in their 70s, and three adult children.
Her landlord, whose representatives did not respond to the Globe’s requests for
comment, wants to more than double the current rent for the unit. A lifelong Bostonian, the 54-year-old does not want to move out of the city, and the apartment’s location is convenient for her family’s many medical needs.
Perhaps most importantly to her, it is home. She said she met with the landlord years ago, when he bought the property with her family already living there, at a Chinese restaurant in Brookline, and told him, “I’m not moving anywhere.”
Now, that proclamation is being put to the test in a very tangible way.
The state’s COVID-19-related eviction and foreclosure moratorium is long over, having expired in October 2020. And, at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston’s West End, the end game of the region’s housing crisis grinds on. This is where the numbers that define that crisis — inflation, rising rents and property values, the scarcity of affordable housing units — become painful reality.
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.
For Pattie Whiting, a senior clinical instructor at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, those pro se numbers show that the “system is fundamentally unfair.” It isn’t so much broken as it is working exactly the way it’s designed, said Whiting. Housing court does not receive enough funding, and there aren’t enough judges or housing specialists, she said.
Even the lawyer for the day program, while beneficial to tenants, shows that “the legal service community had to step forward and volunteer their time and otherwise find resources to even things out, to make things a little fairer.”
“The court system and the state — nobody seems interested in doing that,” she said.
Meanwhile, the eviction proceedings plod on.