Massachusetts Legal Services Programs Launch Innovative Pilot Project Focusing on Homelessness Prevention
By Georgia Katsoulomitis, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
BOSTON — A collaboration of Massachusetts legal services programs today launched a pilot project to prevent homelessness and explore the impact of full legal representation in eviction cases. Funded by a $400,000 Crisis Response and Innovation Grant from the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley, the HomeCorps Homelessness Prevention Project will provide free legal representation to low income tenants and landlords in certain eviction cases in Worcester Housing Court and Framingham District Court.
The HomeCorps Homelessness Prevention Project will be managed by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), the statewide poverty law and policy institute and support center for local and regional legal services providers. MLRI will work in conjunction with local legal services program partners MetroWest Legal Services, Massachusetts Justice Project and Community Legal Aid, and with a special advisory panel to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate the pilot project.
MetroWest Legal Services will provide representation at the Framingham site, while Community Legal Aid and the Massachusetts Justice Project will collaborate to offer representation in Worcester. The project was designed to offer services in both a specialized Housing Court and a generalized District Court because evictions occur in both types of courts in Massachusetts and the effect of representation may vary by court type.
Evaluative tools will attempt to measure the efficacy of the project, testing the theory that representation in certain eviction cases in fact leads to a preservation of shelter. The project will also obtain data on the number and types of eviction cases, the cost of providing representation and other benefits won for clients.
About Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI)
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is the statewide poverty law and policy institute whose mission is to advance economic, racial and social justice through legal action, advocacy and public information. MLRI advocates for systemic reforms to policies and practices that harm people living in poverty and works to ensure that the fundamental needs of traditionally underserved, low-income populations are met. In addition, MLRI serves as the statewide support center for local and regional legal services providers and advocacy organizations. For more information, visit www.mlri.org
About MetroWest Legal Services (MWLS)
MWLS provides free legal aid to low-income people in 36 cities and towns. MWLS’ Housing Unit assists low-income families and individuals with their affordable housing matters. Tenants who live in low-income housing and those with housing subsidies are given priority since this type of housing is so difficult to obtain and, once terminated, often results in homelessness. MWLS provides representation: in eviction defense, including for tenants whose landlords have been foreclosed upon; in administrative appeal matters for applicants who have been denied admission into subsidized housing programs; and for participants who have had their housing benefits terminated. MWLS’s Housing Project also runs a free pro se Housing Clinic twice a week to help tenants facing eviction, prepare for their own court cases.
About Community Legal Aid (CLA)
CLA is the state-funded civil legal aid program serving central and western Massachusetts. The program provides free civil legal assistance to low-income and elderly residents of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and Worcester Counties. Funding cuts have compelled CLA to cut back on its historically broad-based housing work. It currently focuses its advocacy in Worcester on fair housing work and foreclosure defense cases. CLA also has funding from the Massachusetts Bar Foundation to handle a limited number of cases involving evictions and access to shelter.
About the Massachusetts Justice Project (MJP)
MJP is the Legal Services Corporation funded program serving the same central-west counties as CLA. MJP and CLA are currently working toward a merger of their programs. MJP currently operates a legal hotline and functions as the primary entry point for persons seeking legal aid assistance in this region. MJP coordinates a small Lawyer for the Day (LFD) program at the Worcester Housing Court carried out primarily by MJP staff. They also operate a pro bono program working with the Worcester County Bar Association.