De Novo Debuts Housing Court 'Lawyer for the Day' Clinic

In much of the state, more and more renters are devoting larger portions of their income to rent. For low-income families, this can push them further into poverty and put them at risk of being evicted, and becoming homeless.

A 2018 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition says Massachusetts workers need to make $27.39 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental home — more than twice the state’s $11 an hour minimum wage.

Eviction is a destabilizing experience for anyone, but the stakes are particularly high for those who live in public or subsidized housing. Families evicted from public housing risk losing their Section 8 subsidy and may be barred from applying for public housing in the future.

Women with children are much more likely to face eviction, and African American women are disproportionately affected. Studies show that people who are evicted from their homes are also more likely to lose their jobs, sinking them deeper into poverty. 

To address the problem, De Novo has launched a new Housing Court ‘Lawyer For the Day’ Clinic to provide free legal assistance to tenants. In eviction proceedings, the vast majority of landlords, 85 to 90 percent in some housing courts, show up to court with a lawyer, while tenants often face eviction without legal counsel.

Without an attorney, the legal system can be hard to navigate. Tenants with lawyers have a better chance of reaching agreements with landlords to stay in their homes, and they avoid having an eviction on their record, which makes it harder to find another place to live.

Now, low-income tenants without attorneys will receive real-time legal advice on their cases, as well as assistance in drafting pleadings, accompaniment to mediation sessions and, in many cases, in-court representation. Those in need of additional help will be referred to De Novo’s Housing Unit for full representation.

The Housing Court ‘Lawyer For the Day’ Clinic takes place every Friday at the Eastern Housing Court session at Cambridge District Court in Medford.

Amanda Becker