BOSTON (SHNS) – Almost a year into the state’s eviction diversion initiative, a top lawmaker flagged concerns that the state’s Southeast Housing Court has seen “disproportionately higher evictions” compared to other areas and floated additional ideas to improve the program.
Rep. Jim Arciero, who co-chairs the Housing Committee, wrote to Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy on Tuesday with three questions “to help inform the committee’s work,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by the News Service.
“According to eviction data, Massachusetts’ Southeast Housing Court has seen disproportionately higher evictions than any other court in the Commonwealth,” Arciero wrote. “One possible factor is the absence of the free legal clinic for tenants within this courthouse. The COVID Eviction Housing Legal Help Project (CEHLP) is a critical component in the Eviction Diversion Initiative that provides tenants with equal access to legal information and representation in Housing Court.”
He asked Kennealy to provide information about how the administration and judiciary are ensuring all eligible tenants can access legal help resources and whether data is available showing the program’s breakdown across various courts. Data published by the Massachusetts Trial Court show that 658 evictions have been executed against Bristol County residents since October 2020, more than any other county. Worcester County had the second-most evictions executed with 547, followed by Middlesex County with 532.
Arciero also asked Kennealy if the Department of Housing and Community Development could update notices that go to residents facing evictions to “underscore and outline resources available to tenants in further detail,” rather than providing links to websites, and inquired about lifting a limit preventing landlords with more than 20 units from applying for aid on behalf of their tenants.
The Housing Committee heard testimony in August on a bill that would revive a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, require landlords to exhaust all rental assistance options before seeking an eviction, and implement additional changes to streamline the application process, but legislative leaders have not signaled if they intend to bring the legislation forward for a vote.