Housing Families will host its annual Legislative Breakfast on Wednesday, March 28, from 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. to raise awareness of the magnitude of family homelessness in Malden, Medford, Everett, Chelsea and Revere.
Housing Families’ Legislative Breakfast is a free event open to all and hosted at the Irish American Club, 177 West St, Malden, MA. A complimentary light breakfast will be served starting at 8:30am and the speaker series will run from 9:00 – 10:00 am.
Housing Families’ Director of Homelessness Prevention and Advocacy Laura Rosi said, “This is an opportunity for families who have experienced homelessness to share their stories and educate others about the issue. Community members will also have an opportunity to hear about State and local efforts to combat housing instability and learn about ways they can get involved.”
Ed Cameron, Housing Families’ CEO, added, “Our families in shelter have average income of less than $12,000 per year. With most apartments going for over $2,000 a month in our area, they just can’t afford to keep their heads above water.”
State and local elected officials have been invited to the Breakfast. To date, legislators scheduled to attend include: State Senator Jason Lewis, State Representative Paul Donato, Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, Medford Mayor Stephanie Muccini-Burke, Melrose Mayor Gail Infurna, City Councilor Neal Anderson, and Malden Public Schools Superintendant John Otieri.Other elected officials are expected to attend.
Special thanks to Bill Hart and the Malden Irish American Club for hosting the breakfast.
Service organizations sponsoring the breakfast are Housing Families Inc, Chelsea Collaborative, Homes for Families, and Shelter Music Boston. Housing Families is also grateful to its corporate sponsors for making this event possible: Kelliher & Callaghan, Lucey Insurance Agency, Stratford Capital Group LLC, Cataldo Ambulance, Fresco’s Roast Beef & Seafood, Hugh O’Neill’s Restaurant & Pub, Minuteman Press, New England Security, Shapiro & Hender, Yankee Pest Control, 3MG Boston, and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
To RSVP, contact Patty Kelly at Housing Families 781-322-9119 x115 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Full-service real estate and property management firm Peabody Properties (http://www.peabodyproperties.com) is proud to announce that Dusanka Caus of Chelsea, Massachusetts, has been recognized for excellence by the New England Affordable Housing Management Association (NEAHMA).
Caus, Peabody Properties’ Service Manager, was awarded Maintenance Professional of the Year at the recent NEAHMA Annual Industry Awards reception, held in conjunction with the organization’s Annual Conference & Trade Show. The honor is given annually to a NEAHMA member affordable housing professional in recognition of their contribution to the affordable housing industry. In addition, the award recognizes the difference the recipient has made in residents’ lives, the demonstrated skills needed to operate a well-run property, and the ability to work well with industry partners and residents living in the community.
“Dusanka is an extraordinary member of our team and well-deserving of this prestigious award from NEAHMA,” said Scott Ployer, Vice President of Peabody Properties, Inc. “The entire Peabody Properties community extends congratulations to Dusanka.”
About Peabody Properties, Inc.
Peabody Properties is a full-service real-estate firm which manages more than 12,000 units of housing, primarily in New England. The award-winning, privately held corporation and Accredited Management Organization (AMO) was incorporated in 1976 and is under the direction of Karen Fish-Will and Melissa Fish-Crane. In 1995, Peabody Properties recognized its long-term commitment to Resident Services as a unique area of expertise within the field of property management and established a new, specialty sector. Peabody Resident Services, Inc. is dedicated solely to the development of support services and programs for residents of affordable housing. Peabody Properties is designated as a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE), is certified by the Massachusetts State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance (SOMWBA) and was recently ranked in the top 60 on the 2017 National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) Affordable 100 List, as well as a 2017 Top Place to Work by the Boston Globe. Peabody Properties maintains headquarters at 536 Granite Street, Braintree, MA 02184. The firm also has offices in New Jersey and Florida. For additional information please visit http://www.peabodyproperties.com.
A new, revamped effort by the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) to build a mixed-income development on Central Avenue will likely come with a significant Tax Increment Financing (TIF) request, said City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
The new proposal, which is a second attempt by designated developer Corcoran Jennison, will likely come before the City in February or March. However, this time Ambrosino said it’s probably going to also be accompanied by a request from Corcoran for a TIF agreement.
“It will not be an insignificant amount for a TIF,” said Ambrosino. “From the City’s perspective, we’re motivated by the fact there is no other way to get that development rebuilt. This will give those resident brand new units in a mixed income development. Right now, we’re getting zero tax dollars on it, and we would be getting something from the developer if this is built.”
The development was proposed in 2017, but was beat back when Corcoran requested the City Council allow them to use some non-union labor on the project to make the finances work.
A large group of residents and union workers appeared at the meeting on the night of the vote, and the Council agreed with them, shooting down the request.
Nothing has happened since, but it appears that to make the books balance, Corcoran will be looking to get some property taxes reduced for a period of time.
“The City will be sympathetic,” Ambrosino said. “I want that project to move forward. That’s going to be a huge upgrade for those public housing tenants.”
Historically, the Council has been accommodating for TIF requests, but in recent years many councillors have began to question whether they are really needed any longer. It will likely be a spirited debate once again within the board.
In 2011, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) was in total disarray, and Chelsea resident Tom Standish had a long history of putting things back together.
As the chair of the CHA since 2011, putting things back together is exactly what Standish, the other Board members and the staff at CHA did in the wake of the Michael McLaughlin corruption scandal.
Now, with his work seemingly done and the CHA now a high-performer in the public housing world, Standish has stepped aside from his long-time role as chair of an organization that was quite literally brought back from the grave.
“It was a clear case of corruption and the need to restore normalcy to the government,” said Standish recently from his home on the waterfront, a few weeks after stepping down as chair. “Really, it was transparent that someone was controlling the situation and had everyone in line. There needed to be five people who had the strength of character and expertise to guide the CHA back to normalcy. As it turned out, we guided it to high performance.”
After the McLaughlin scandal, few thought that the CHA would ever be put back given the tangled web of accounting fraud and the money not expended on facilities for so long.
Tenants were angry.
The public was angry.
The federal government was angry.
Those five board members, led by Standish, helped restore the confidence.
Standish said he saw a posting about the City looking for talented people to serve on the new board – as the old board had been removed quickly on suspicion of corruption with McLaughlin. With a deep resume as a regulator in the Connecticut government and in other endeavors, he was chosen right off. At the first meeting, his other four colleagues quickly elected him as the chair when he voiced concern over the minutes from the previous meetings – challenging the Board’s attorney.
From there, the rebuilding took place, including the hiring of current CHA Executive Director Al Ewing – who had served previously in the CHA administration.
“It was our task to establish a route that would bring us to restoration of faith in the performance of the duties,” said Standish. “We went on the war path. We got the support of Al Ewing and he did a fabulous job of brining a fee accountant in and an accountant from outside to do an audit…That gave us a lot of confidence in Al. You can change a lot with a big organization if you can get competent, honest people. For me personally, that was a turning point in the organization.”
Another turning point, he said, was when they were able to get the full services of the Nixon Peabody law firm and Attorney Jeff Sacks to help them guide the case against McLaughlin on behalf of the CHA. That was also assisted by Charlestown attorney Susan Whalen, whom the CHA hired.
Standish said, through a mutual friend, he had heard that Nixon Peabody was looking for a case to work on pro bono that would make a difference. As it happened, that case was the CHA’s.
“They were going to pay for it 100 percent,” he said. “It wasn’t one of those where they said they would help us for 75 cents on the dollar. It was 100 percent…Susan Whalen in conjunction with Nixon Peabody were able to move the case forward and were able to get a decision.”
While the matter of McLaughlin’s $200,000 pension is still outstanding, and the McLaughlin matter still appears as a potential Executive Session item on every CHA meeting agenda – for the most part justice was done.
Standish said he was very relieved on the day McLaughlin was sentenced in Boston Federal Court, knowing that justice had been rendered for the tenants and the taxpayers. However, he said he was conflicted about the time and type of sentence – noting that he is glad he did not have to make a recommendation to the court.
“In the end, McLaughlin said he was just trying to keep up with his neighbors,” he said. “He said they all had nice cars and nice houses and he just wanted to keep up with them. It was a totally different McLaughlin than we had seen up to then.”
Overall, Standish said he would look back at his time on the CHA as something of a gift – a way he could give back, and in turn, be given to.
“I was energized by it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who run out and look to be fulfilled in life by making money, but try as they may, nothing is more fulfilling than giving to society…The thing that’s great for me is to see public housing work in Chelsea. I’ve come to realize that high-minded people make this world work. We have been a high-performer every single year since the first one. We worked very hard – many long hours and all uncompensated. It has been invigorating and exciting. I regard it as a gift to have had the opportunity.”
The Metro Housing Boston organization reported this month that their transition assistance program for families in crisis helped 70 families in Chelsea with a total expenditure of $190,623 locally.
Outside of Boston, Chelsea was the one community where RAFT was utilized more than others. The next closest community was Malden with 47 families helped.
The Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides families with a small amount of cash assistance and provides an option to having to enter emergency shelter. Metro Housing Boston administers RAFT in Boston and 28 surrounding communities. With RAFT, eligible families can apply for up to $4,000 that can be used to help retain housing, get new housing, keep utilities on and to avoid homelessness. To qualify, a family cannot make more than 50 percent of the area median income, which in the 2017 Boston region was $46,550 for a family of three.
“Many families are living paycheck to paycheck,” red the report. “An unplanned expense can put their housing in jeopardy. RAFT provides a safety net for families to have something to fall back on when they are in crisis and need support.”
It is the fourth year that Metro Housing Boston has shared the data about the program, which is funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Stating that Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live within in the United States, officials from Metro Housing Boston said such funding is extremely important for families with very low incomes to handle things like fires or other catastrophes that they cannot afford to plan for.
“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”
Overall, including Chelsea, the program likely saved 1,000 families from turning to a shelter – which also is estimated to have saved the state $31 million in emergency shelter funds. For the $3.8 million RAFT funding, 1,474 families were able to resolve housing crises.
With the continued commitment to funding by the state for RAFT, the program has been able to assist 60 percent more families than it did four years ago. However, this year the average benefit decreased by 3 percent to an average of $2,614 per client.
Also, a pilot program during FY17 expanded RAFT eligibility to include families of all sizes and configurations. Under this program, Metro Housing served 60 households, 31 of whom were individuals and 27 of whose head of household had a disability.
A vast majority of those receiving RAFT (48 percent) use it to pay rent that is in arrears. Some 20 percent use it to pay security deposits for a new apartment, and 11 percent use it for first/last months rent payments on a new apartment.
Chelsea GreenRoots is leading the way in jump-starting a renewal of Chelsea-Eastie activism on the Chelsea Creek – sending out teams to help build up momentum on the Eastie side for Creek activism.
GreenRoots Director Roseann Bongiovanni said the organization began trying to revitalize the interest in Eastie back in August after getting a grant to do some organizing.
“We can only be more powerful with one voice like we were in the past,” she said. “Overall, since we started, folks have been receptive because they know this is for East Boston residents and will be led by East Boston residents. It goes back to the holistic look at the Chelsea Creek on the East Boston and Chelsea side.”
For many years, the former Chelsea GreenSpace and the Eastie Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) combined efforts to form the Chelsea Creek Action Group – or CCAG. Together, that group fought of what they believed to be environmental threats to the Creek, including a power plant, CAD cells buried in the riverbed, and the Hess tank removal. They also advocated successfully for the Urban Wild location on the Eastie side, and held social events like the River Revel.
However, about two years ago, a lot of the leadership in Eastie shifted to other matters and concerns in the neighborhood, leaving Chelsea holding up one side of the Creek.
Recently, though, Eastie’s Magdalena Ayed spun off environmental work in her organization HarborKeepers.
That began to develop some interest again in the Creek activism in Eastie.
This year, GreenRoots got a grant to do work to re-activate the grass roots base in East Boston and to institute Eastie leaders to begin leading the revived organization.
“That was very important that this was for East Boston and we were just helping to get it started for them,” said Bongiovanni. “We didn’t want it to seem like Chelsea was coming over and telling East Boston what to do.”
First, they visited 12 groups, including the many neighborhood organizations in Eastie, and spread the word about trying to revive interest in Creek activism.
Right now, John Walkey of Eastie and Indira Alfaro of GreenRoots are canvassing Eastie to get more people involved.
Bongiovanni said getting both sides organized again is very important to the health of the Creek.
She said there is also a great opportunity to learn from one another.
“You see gentrification along the Creek a lot more in East Boston and we are hoping to learn from what they have gone through,” she said.
Bongiovanni said the missing link on the Creek still is Revere, but she has hopes that some organizing can be done there as well.
As Puerto Rican residents continue to trickle into Chelsea following the massive Hurricane Maria devastation, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) announced they would extend the time visitors are allowed to stay with residents – and also consider extensions in some cases.
Director Al Ewing said they have been working close with the Chelsea Collaborative, the City of Chelsea and the state to formulate a plan to accommodate family members that need to live with CHA residents. By rule, CHA only allows visitors to stay in a public housing unit for 21 days. After that, penalties begin to accrue for the resident.
That has been a problem statewide as wary Puerto Ricans flock to the area to live with family members while their homes and their island are repaired from the once-in-a-lifetime storm damage. With nowhere else to turn, residents in public housing have opened their homes to family, but in fact trouble looms due to the 21-day rule.
“What we have done is extended the 21-day limit allowed for visitors to 45 days,” he said. “The key is residents need to notify us who is living in the unit. Obviously we want to work with the residents and this was a terrible disaster and a terrible situation…At the end of the 45-day period, if there is a need for an extension while family members look for permanent housing, we will work with them on a case-by-case basis.”
Ewing said they have encountered some folks from Puerto Rico and one woman from Houston – which both suffered severe storm damage – and he said they have lowered the documentation threshold for them. While there aren’t many units available, he said they are taking applications.
“We have reduced the documentation because people are obviously coming here without the ability to have documentation,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of vacancies in public housing, especially at this time of year. That’s why we wanted to especially relax our regulations for visitor stays so that people can live with family until they can find a permanent situation.”
With virtually nothing left in Puerto Rico after two devastating hurricanes this fall, many from the island are flocking to family in the mainland United States to try to put their lives together – and with a huge Puerto Rican population in Chelsea, many are arriving here with questions and needs.
Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega and a team of stakeholders from the City have been meeting to try to solve the many issues that are coming up or likely will come up as more and more arrive in the City.
Vega said the situation has now turned from sending aid to the island, to focusing resources in the City.
“There are no schools and no electricity and there are a lot of problems there, so many are coming here,” said Vega at a recent meeting in Chelsea High School with about a dozen stakeholders. “We are extremely certain that folks will continue to come because Chelsea has a Puerto Rican community that is very established. Already, some of them are coming to the Collaborative, the Housing Authority, CAPIC and the School Department…We are really at this moment turning our efforts. Before, we were all about collecting donations and sending them to Puerto Rico. Now we are realizing that we need to use some of those same resources and donations right here in Chelsea because people are starting to come here and they have tremendous needs.”
Some of the situations that have been brought up at the state level surround housing in public housing.
Juan Vega, a Chelsea resident who is the Undersecretary of Housing for the state, said there is a team trying to work out situations that will certainly arise.
Those include family members who show up at a public housing complex with nowhere else to go.
Juan said they cannot stay for more than a week as a visitor, but at the same time, they have nowhere else to go. He said the state is aware of it and is working with the federal government to secure some sort of emergency waiver program.
Gladys Vega said one family has already experienced this, with relatives coming to an elderly housing apartment.
“Now they are here in an elderly housing apartment,” she said. “They are told they can stay 10 days and then they have to leave. They’re here now. If they stay past the 10 days, the tenant could be kicked out. We don’t want our established members of the community to lose their housing or their jobs trying to deal with these situations.”
Meanwhile, some that are coming are elderly and in need of medical accommodations, such as handicap ramps built onto homes. Rich Pedi of the Carpenter’s Union has volunteered workers to build such ramps on an emergency basis.
In the schools, Supt. Mary Bourque said they are working to be creative in registering new arrivals for school. In many cases, they don’t have a birth certificate or any documents. All of them were lost in the hurricane for the most part.
Bourque said everyone should come to the Parent Information Center (PIC) to enroll children, even without any documents.
“That’s the first message to get out there,” she said. “If you’re coming to Chelsea and need to enroll students, come to the PIC. We will work with you. The second thing we’re worried about is the trauma once they are enrolled. They have been through a traumatic situation and they will need to see social workers.”
Meanwhile, with November now here, the other thing that will soon be necessary is winter clothing. Many are from an island where a coat is rarely necessary. Now, in Chelsea, they’ll need far more than what they have.
“We’re coming into winter and they don’t have the supplies one needs for a New England winter,” said Bourque. “We need volunteers to donate coats, pants, shoes and warm clothes in all sizes.”
The Collaborative is setting up a welcome center and brochure to help people who are arriving.
After demanding a noise study be conducted using City funds, a Boston University School of Public Health commissioned noise study has revealed in writing what everyone in Chelsea already knew anecdotally – that the airport is driving everyone crazy.
“Overall, it is clear that Chelsea residents are exposed to higher noise levels attributed to aviation relative to many comparison communities and that those noise levels have been increasing in recent years at higher rates than in many other communities,” read the report conclusion. “These exposures have increased over the past five years, and they have increased at a faster rate in Chelsea than in many surrounding communities. Further, unlike East Boston and Winthrop, Chelsea does not fall within the FAA-defined 65 dB DNL contour required for soundproofing eligibility. Given this fact and the age of the housing stock in Chelsea, residents of Chelsea may have among the highest actual exposures to airport-related noise in the region.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino delivered the study to the Council on Monday night at its meeting, with the results being exactly what sponsoring Councillor Dan Cortell and Roy Avellaneda expected.
“Everyone who lives here know there are more flights and they are louder,” said Cortell, who represents the Admiral’s Hill area. “Now it’s time to put full-court pressure on the airport and the federal agencies we’re dealing with here. Someone in Washington, D.C., is sitting in an office looking at a map of Chelsea and making decisions and they don’t understand topography. They don’t understand we have planes on Admiral’s Hill skimming buildings.”
Said Avellaneda, “I hope this starts a dialog or plan of action for what I feel is a negative impact on our community. We definitely face disadvantages…This is not a battle between one councillor or two councillors. The whole Council and the whole community have to win…This report just proves everything we have been saying for the last few years.”
The report was called for earlier this year, and it was undertaken on behalf of the City by the Center for Research on Environmental and Social Stressors in Housing Across the Life Course (CRESSH), which is a division of the BU School of Public Health. Those involved in the study included Jonathan Levy, Claire Schollaert and Madeleine Scammell (a Chelsea resident).
The two chief questions being asked where airport noise ranked in Chelsea compared to other nearby communities, and also how high were airport-related noise exposures compared to other nearby communities.
The study looked at noise levels by Census block for the years 2007 to 2015. The finding showed Chelsea had an average decibel level in 2015 that was one of the highest among comparison communities.
“Taken as a simple average, only Winthrop and East Boston had higher average noise levels,” read the report. “Additionally, within Chelsea, neighborhoods that are closer to the 33L (runway) flight path are exposed to higher noise levels than those that are farther away from the flight path. Looking at noise levels between 2011 and 2015, there has been a general increase in all communities investigated, with Chelsea, East Boston, and Everett having the largest increases in average airport- related noise as measured in DNL. These communities are located directly beneath the 33L departure flight path.”
One of the chief reasons for that is researchers found that flights have nearly doubled between 2012 and 2014 under the Runway 33L flight path, which is Chelsea’s main source of airplane traffic.
“The sharpest increase in annual average estimated airport-related noise levels occurred between 2013 and 2014, with Chelsea, East Boston, and Everett showing the most significant increases among communities investigated,” read the report. “Flight activity on 33L almost doubled between 2012 and 2014, and this timing also aligned with the implementation of the NextGen satellite-based navigation program that concentrated flight paths into and out of Logan Airport.”
NextGen is a frequently reviled innovation in airplane navigation technology in communities where flight paths are concentrated. The technology came on in recent years and it uses GPS technology to pinpoint flight paths and eliminate deviation. That serves to concentrate jet noise to one corridor over and over, rather than spreading it out over a wider area.
The study also sought to look at some health indicators in Chelsea, and showed that the city’s annual average age-adjusted rates of hospital admissions for heart attacks is the highest by far of the comparison communities between 2007 and 2012.
There were 44 hospitalizations per 10,000 people age 35 and over, with the nearest community being Hull with 37 and Everett with 36.
“To be clear, this does not imply that the noise or air pollution from Logan Airport is the cause of these disease patterns,” read the report. “Rather, this increased cardiovascular health burden among Chelsea residents, related to a number of different factors, indicates that Chelsea may be particularly vulnerable to increased noise exposures as a result of aviation activity.”
The Council agreed to hold a Committee on Conference in the near future to discuss the report and generate a plan. Councillors are calling for more of the City to get mitigation measures like soundproofing and parks – as well as a sensitivity to Chelsea’s predicament from MassPort that some councillors believe is missing.
“Chelsea has a lot of fourth and fifth generation residents who have been here since the late 1800s,” said Councillor Matt Frank. “I am one. Councillor Murphy is another. When the airport says we were here before you, that’s not exactly true. It’s kind of insulting.”
The Housing Court in Boston has been a refuge since the 1970s for mediation, litigation and resolution of all sorts of housing issues, but throughout all of that time, it has been closed off to Chelsea landlords, tenants and City officials.
Instead, they had to file cases in Chelsea District Court with court officials who were more adept at understanding criminal statutes rather than housing codes and laws. It was a constant point of contention, as many in the city wished for the professional expertise of those in the Housing Court division.
That wish came true on July 1, and Housing Court Chief Justice Timothy Sullivan and Department Administrator Paul J. Burke told the Record they are busy rolling out the court right now to the rest of the state – including Chelsea. That comes after it was approved in the State Budget this year, an appropriation and direction from the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker to bring housing court to everyone.
“Over the years we grew to have five divisions in Housing Court, but there were still 84 communities underserved or unserved by the court,” said Judge Sullivan. “In July, the State Budget authorized us to expand and absorb those communities. Previously, for example, in Chelsea and Revere, one had no access to Housing Court. They could litigate disputes, but it had to be in district court.”
Housing Court began in the 1970s to address substandard housing conditions in Boston, and gradually grew to other areas of the state. However, that specialized court never go the go-ahead to expand everywhere to offer their unique services.
Judges and staff in Housing Court are specially trained and have tremendous expertise in housing issues – particularly when it comes to mediating landlord-tenant disputes or evictions, which make up about 66 percent of the 41,000 cases filed annually. Another 15 percent come from municipalities looking to enforce the sanitary code or code violations on problem properties.
The call is nothing new for Chelsea to be absorbed into Housing Court, and even Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants has been a strong advocate for the creating of a statewide Housing Court – not to mention numerous local housing organizations.
However, it wasn’t until this year that the call was answered, and Sullivan said they were ready and continue to ramp things up.
Already, he said, many cases that had previously been filed in Chelsea District Court for Revere and Chelsea have been transferred to the new Eastern Division in Boston’s Edward Brooke Courthouse.
Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop will now be included in the jurisdiction of that Eastern Division. The Legislation also creates a new, Sixth Division, on the South Shore – currently being rolled out in Brockton. It will be known as Metro South.
The Western Division has no change, but the other divisions throughout the state will also be absorbing the communities like Chelsea who have had no access to the specialized services of the Housing Court.
“As we build our new Sixth Division in Norfolk County, we’ll also be absorbing probably 52 to 54 communities in other parts of the state – for example Chelsea and Revere – in four of our five existing divisions,” said Sullivan.
“We have really hit the ground running,” he continued. “Fortunately, with Paul Burke’s expertise, this had been talked about for some time and he had a plan on the shelf ready to go. This idea to expand had been kicking around for a bit in the State House, probably for about four years or more. Paul did a magnificent job preparing for that.”
One of the major services that will now be offered to Chelsea resident through Housing Court is access to a Housing Specialist to help mediate cases before the come to a judge.
“The Housing Specialists are very skilled at bringing people together, both sides, to work out an agreeable resolution to landlord/tenant disputes,” said Sullivan.
Burke said 80 percent of the cases mediated by a Housing Specialist resulted in an Agreement for Judgment, and presumably meaning that all parties left the courthouse satisfied and that the judge never had to engage with the parties.
Last Thursday, which is known as Summary Judgment Day, the Edward Brooke Courthouse was teeming with people coming to resolve housing cases – most of them landlords and tenants trying to work out disputes.
At the first of the day, their cases are called in a large courtroom to make sure everyone on both sides has appeared. If everyone is present, they usually move the case to a Housing Specialist. After a brief wait, the parties mediate the case with the Specialist.
If an agreement is worked out, an Assistant Clerk Magistrate can resolve the case with a short hearing. Then all parties are free to go and are to follow the new agreement – whether it be repairs or rent payments.
Anyone not satisfied, however, can ask to see the judge and, later in the day, go before the judge to discuss the matter.
Another program is related to the Housing Specialist program, but deals with anyone who might have a disability. It is called the Tennessee Preservation Project (TPP).
Clinicians who specialize in disabilities of all kinds are immediately called in to consult with court staff if anyone on a case is eligible for the services. They can consult and help to also resolve the case.
“They can help come up with a plan to accommodate the disabled individual and try to prevent homelessness, and at the same time alleviate the landlord’s problem as a result of the disability,” said Sullivan.
One example where that could apply is in a situation where there is a problem with Hoarding – or the gathering of things to the point where it violates the Sanitary Code. Any agreement made in consult with TPP can be rolled into an Agreement for Judgment with the Housing Specialist – meaning both parties are accountable to the agreement and it can be brought back before a judge is one party does not uphold it.
One of the final benefits now offered is the Lawyer for a Day program, where lawyers from the community volunteer their time and talent to assist those coming in without representation.
In a place like Housing Court, that is crucial, Sullivan said, because many don’t bring a lawyer.
Burke said more than 70 percent of litigants come without a lawyer, and the program helps people understand what is a very complex section of the law dealing with housing.
“The Lawyer for a Day program is of tremendous value to litigants,” said Sullivan.
For cities and towns, the entry into Housing Court is also a major boon, and they were likely the voices that finally pushed the effort over the top legislatively.
With so many foreclosures coming after the 2008 housing crisis hit, many cities and towns underserved by Housing Court found themselves in a difficult situation when trying to enforce the building and sanitary code on vacant homes tied up in foreclosure.
Municipalities had to get a court-appointed receiver to take over the home, which is something Housing Court is accustomed to, but District Court is not.
Many times, housing law expertise was needed, but cases had to be filed in the District Court.
“Our staff is trained and skilled in all aspects related to building codes, fire codes and we’re equipped to deal with the Housing Statutes in a very efficient way,” Sullivan said.
The rollout of the court is still in progress, and includes adding five new judges to the existing 10 judges now serving on Housing Court. There will also be one new Clerk Magistrate for Norfolk County’s new division.
Burke said the hope is to be fully up and running in all divisions by the end of the next fiscal year, which is June 30, 2018. That will include getting new staff aboard next spring to help absorb the cases that are coming in from places like Revere and Chelsea.
A key resource for those who have a case in the new Housing Court is the Access Centers that are in each division, including the Edward Brooke Courthouse.
The Center is available and staffed to help litigants file forms and get information on an upcoming case. It’s not a resource for the day-of, but can be invaluable for those who check it out ahead of time.
“That’s a resource people need to affirmatively reach out for,” said Burke. “You don’t wait for your day in court to use it. You have to seek it out ahead of time and then you can really be prepared for your court date.”
Catarina Andrade is one of several Housing Specialists in the newly expanded Housing Court that are prepared to help landlords and tenants resolve cases before going to a judge. Some 80 percent of cases that go before a specialist are resolved agreeably without seeing a judge.
Assistant Clerk Magistrate Tom Trilla conducts a hearing on a case that was successfully mediated by a Housing Specialist last Thursday in the Edward Brooke Courthouse –which houses the newly expanded Eastern Division of Housing Court. Such access to mediators and hearings were previously not available to residents of Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop. They had to go through the District Court for housing disputes.
Attorney Patricio Rossi – a Winthrop resident – is one of the many attorneys that volunteer their time to help those without representation in Housing Court. The Lawyer for a Day Program is another amenity of Housing Court previously not available to those in Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop who had to filing housing cases in District Court.