The Boston City Council yesterday agreed to look at setting up a pilot program to help tenants facing eviction by giving them access to a housing attorney.
City Councilor Ben Weber (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) formally proposed the idea yesterday as a way to even the playing field between landlords in a time, almost all of whom have a lawyer during housing-court proceedings, and tenants, who mostly don't and whom he said may not be aware of their basic rights, or sometimes even deadlines for trying to contest their impending homelessness because of the complexities of housing law and the court system.
"The right to counsel is a bedrock of our democracy," Weber, himself a lawyer, said. And while that right has mostly been exercised in criminal cases, it's time for the city to look at protecting the right of tenants "to have a roof over your head," especially at a time when rapidly rising rents are placing more and more people at risk of eviction.
Weber noted the Baker administration set up a similar legal program for tenants facing eviction during the initial phases of the pandemic and said such a program is particularly needed now that eviction rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels. He said eviction rates rose 40% over the past year in Suffolk County, and that Black and LatinX families and single mothers are particularly vulnerable.
Weber added he would look to add small landlords to the pilot, since they also can face a daunting legal process - and expense.
Weber made his proposal during his "maiden" speech as a councilor following his election last fall. After he was done, and council President Ruthzee Louijeune assigned the proposal to a committee for a public hearing, councilors gave him a standing ovation. They then posed with Weber and his family for photos.
Watch Weber's first council speech: