Councilor Weber Delivers His Maiden Speech
“While running for City Council, I received a phone call from a woman named Mary from West Roxbury. She said she saw I was running for City Council, that I was an attorney, and asked if I could help her. Mary is a senior citizen and was being kicked out of her housing. She said, 'It's crazy, I’ve lived here all of my life, I’m on a fixed income, and now I can’t afford to live here. I don’t know where I’ll go.” Councilor Weber received these kinds of phone calls throughout his 18 years of being an attorney. This Wednesday, he took the first step towards helping make sure Mary and others like her can access the legal help they need.
Councilor Weber put his first order on the floor for a hearing to explore a right to counsel pilot program for tenants facing eviction in the City of Boston. The hearing order states that, “The City of Boston is in the midst of a housing crisis, with rising costs and a shortage of available units, putting pressure on the City’s renters.”
On a daily basis, tenants from neighborhoods across the City are confronted by the threat of eviction without the necessary tools or knowledge to advocate for themselves. Current Massachusetts Trial Court data shows that 90.5 percent of landlords had legal representation during eviction proceedings in housing court, while only 3.1 percent of tenants who were facing eviction for nonpayment had representation.
“It’s simply unfair. And that is not to suggest that the landlords or their attorneys are doing anything wrong,” said Councilor Weber. “We have an adversarial legal system and a landlord’s attorney has an ethical obligation to zealously advocate for [their] client and obtain the best results available under the law. The results when the other side doesn’t have representation, however, are sadly predictable.”
According to Councilor Weber’s hearing order, “Since the end of the federal eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic, evictions have increased to pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, there was an average of 64 eviction filings per week. The number of filings rose to 111 per week on average one year later, which represents a 73.8 percent jump in filings.”
Studies have shown that eviction filings in the City and across Massachusetts are more likely to be made against people of color and single mothers. Evictions contribute to a drain on City, State, and Federal resources, for example, by requiring increased reliance on shelters, mental health services, and other emergency services.
Granting tenants a right to counsel has been demonstrated to reduce eviction
filings, reduce the rate of evictions, and lead to better outcomes for tenants. “The housing laws in the Commonwealth are intended to promote public health, prevent discrimination, and prevent homelessness. We have some of the strongest housing laws in the country, but the lack of representation means that they aren’t given the chance to satisfy their purpose,” said Councilor Weber. “An access to counsel program does not create new rights for either landlords or tenants, it simply seeks to make sure their already existing rights are protected and as other cities and states have already found, doing this will actually save money. [...] It has been shown that providing access to counsel in housing cases protects one of the most basic needs - a right to have a roof over your head.”
The hearing order was assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development.
To listen to Councilor Weber’s maiden speech, click here.