Posts Tagged: housing

A Morning with Lawyer for the Day at the Housing Court

Guest Post: Elena Kuran is the current Lawyer Referral Service Intern at the Boston Bar Association. Elena is a third-year International Affairs major at Northeastern University.

On any given Thursday, the fifth floor of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse is crowded before most people even begin their workday. Landlords, tenants, and attorneys representing both groups drift in and out of Courtroom 10, filling out paperwork, trying to quiet children, and navigating the sprawling Courthouse.

At the center of the Housing Court’s activity are the Lawyer for the Day clinic tables, organized by organizations including Volunteer Lawyers Project, Greater Boston Legal Services, Harvard Law School, and New England School of Law. Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) organizes and trains volunteer attorneys who provide pro bono services each week. The volunteers represent firms ranging from boutique to some of the largest in Boston.

The volunteer lawyers provide legal advice and strategy, help fill out forms, provide referrals to service agencies, and on occasion, represent pro se defendants. These attorneys help fill a critical gap: roughly 95% of tenants in Housing Court are without counsel. A majority of advised clients choose mediation over going straight to a bench trial and leave Courtroom 10 to meet with their landlord’s attorney a few floors below.

After observing the volunteer lawyers interact with the pro se defendants, it was clear to me that they also serve a less direct but equally important role: to send a message to those tenants facing eviction that they have someone who will vouch for them, who cares about the outcome of their case, who is sympathetic to the fact that the system has let them slip through the cracks.

At the same time, it was also easy to see that the volunteers are well versed in speaking with the attorneys representing the landlords who are handing out the eviction notices. In one instance, an attorney representing a management company expressed regret that he was helping to evict a young, single mother. The volunteer attorney suggested he take a more sympathetic approach, and give the tenant an extra month to find a new apartment.

These volunteer attorneys help to remedy injustices which are the result of a long history of structural oppression and marginalization of communities of color in particular. The affordable housing crisis in Boston is exacerbated by expanding academic institutions and an increasing population of short-term renters. Secure housing is a right, and to guarantee it for all will require major governmental intervention. In the meantime, the donated time and expert advice of volunteer attorneys ensure a better outcome for tenants who would otherwise have no one on their side.


If you’re interested in becoming involved with the Lawyer for the Day Program, attend an upcoming training at the Boston Bar Association. Attorneys from Volunteer Lawyers Project will guide attendees through trying a case in housing court on Wednesday, April 17th from 2:30 – 5:00 PM. Read more information about the event and register to attend here.

BBA Volunteer Leads Reentry Education Sessions on Housing

ryansakoda

Ryan Sakoda, a Liman Public Interest Fellow at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, does a lot of work with defendants in the midst of a dispute over housing. As an attorney working in the public defender’s office in Boston, he frequently works to help clients who are facing eviction or who are having a hard time finding affordable housing because of a criminal record.

That’s why he wanted to volunteer to teach a session for the BBA’s Reentry Education program. During two recent sessions, Sakoda spoke to federal probationers and CHOICE participants about their options for getting into public housing in spite of their history.

“Many people that have contact with the criminal justice system are low-income, and so a lot of them do rely on housing assistance,” Sakoda said. “In order to move on with your life, housing is really the foundation to regain some stability and get past the contact with the criminal justice system.”

Sakoda said many of those with a criminal record get discouraged and do not apply for public housing, because they have heard about the difficulties from other people in a similar position or because they have applied before and been denied. During the training, Sakoda covered an applicant’s right to appeal the decision if they are denied housing, a step that he said many people do not take.

“The truth is that there just aren’t enough public interest lawyers to fully represent all the people that need this kind of legal assistance. That’s why I feel it’s so important that the BBA and other organizations put on these informational programs,” Sakoda said.