Boston Mayor Walsh Expands Assistance for Tenants Facing Eviction

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Mayor Walsh

BOSTON – Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced a partnership between Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab and the Office of Housing Stability to expand assistance for tenants facing court eviction with a new online tool, Massachusetts Defense for Eviction (MADE).

MADE is a resource for tenants to refer to when faced with an eviction. The new web app makes it easier for tenants on their own to legally respond to their eviction cases, to keep track of key deadlines and to defend themselves in court. This tool complements existing work that the City has undertaken to inform tenants of their rights through a step-by-step online Eviction Guide.

“In Boston, we’re working hard to ensure families are able to stay in their neighborhoods and community as we build and maintain affordable housing,” said Mayor Walsh. “Evictions can have a devastating effect on families, and MADE is one measure to support vulnerable tenants by giving them an easy to use tool that allows them to exercise their rights within the legal system.”

As part of the Administration’s commitment to preventing displacement, Mayor Walsh recently announced a housing security legislative package submitted to the Massachusetts Legislature, which includes right to counsel in eviction proceedings, protection for elderly tenants from no-fault evictions and large rent increases, and ability for tenants and nonprofits to have the right of first refusal to purchase properties. Mayor Walsh recently testified at the Massachusetts State House in support of bills that would ensure the right to counsel in eviction proceedings and protections for older adults in just-cause evictions.

The Office of Housing Stability and Greater Boston Legal Services strongly encourages tenants to respond to their court eviction hearing. By responding, tenants can better understand and assert their rights to potentially reach a more favorable outcome with their landlord. However, tenants have a limited amount of time from when they receive notice of their scheduled court hearing date to submit their legal responses to the court. This new online tool addresses some of the barriers that can prevent tenants from seeking assistance with their court eviction response.

“MADE is an online tool that empowers tenants and their families to fight an eviction and avoid homelessness. A tenant can use MADE to defend against an eviction while learning about their housing rights,” said Quinten Steenhuis, Senior Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services and creator of MADE. “This can be powerfully effective for tenants who are facing a major crisis–homelessness–to prevent their evictions.”

“GBLS is excited to have other ways to support people who need legal assistance, in view of our limited resources, ” said Jacquelynne J. Bowman, GBLS’ Executive Director.

MADE is a web app created by GBLS that tenants can use on their smartphone or desktop computer, which lets tenants respond to an eviction wherever and whenever is most convenient for them. Tenants can access the tool and complete the self-guided interview in as little as 25 minutes. The web app generates completed court paperwork with responses unique to a tenant’s housing situation, instructions on how to properly serve their legal paperwork, and automatic reminders of important dates sent through text and email.

Tenants can either use MADE inside free legal clinics at Greater Boston Legal Services or other providers in the state, or at home on their own smartphone. This flexibility can be critical for working tenants, tenants with childcare needs, and tenants with disabilities that make it hard to attend a clinic at a fixed day and time. MADE fills a gap when tenants cannot meet face to face with a legal service provider to submit their responses within the time limit.

Users of MADE have already found the tool helpful in addressing eviction notices.

“I am a tenant that stumbled across MADE while looking for help with forms,” said Lisa Baker, a Massachusetts tenant. “I think MADE from GBLS is an awesome and effective tool!  Well thought out!”

Through the partnership between the Housing Innovation Lab, the Office of Housing Stability and GBLS, the MADE website will receive language enhancements that will better serve residents who consider Spanish, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Portuguese their primary language. The Office of Language and Communications Access reports 108,145 Boston residents (17.4 percent) self-identify to speak, read, write or understand English less than “very well”.

“Through the leadership of Mayor Walsh, the City of Boston is making incredible strides to expand the reach of city services by prioritizing the varied language and communications needs of constituents today,” said Manar-ul Islam Swaby, Director of Language and Communication Access. “This tool is a prime example of what accessibility can look like when done well – it addresses the experiences and challenges faced across diverse communities and designs for that difference.”

Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) assists consumers, survivors of domestic violence, homeless families, elders, people with disabilities, homeowners facing foreclosure, tenants in no-fault evictions, low-wage workers, families with no source of income, and immigrants facing persecution. Annually, GBLS provides legal assistance to nearly 9,000 families and individuals who live at or below 125% of the federal poverty standard. GBLS also provides legal counsel to dozens of community-based groups and organizations and conducts strategic impact advocacy to bring about positive systematic change throughout the region and state.