Evictions devastate lives and communities. Research shows evictions lead to displacement from neighborhoods, decreased physical and mental well-being, instability in employment and education, increased likelihood that children will be placed in foster or other out-of-home care, and greater reliance on social service supports.  

Legislation before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary, An Act promoting access to counsel and housing security in Massachusetts (H.1731/S.864), would provide both low-income tenants and low-income owner-occupants with access to full legal representation in eviction proceedings – and thus the crucial fighting power to stay in their homes. This legislation is supported by a broad coalition, including the legal community, health care providers, local politicians, and faith-based organizations. 

Despite the many harms of evictions, only 3 percent of tenants in Massachusetts facing an eviction have a lawyer representing them in housing court. In contrast, over 90 percent of Massachusetts landlords have legal representation in those cases. The result of this imbalance is no surprise: evictions.

While it is illegal to evict someone without going through housing court, this protection is meaningless if tenants have no legal support to fight their pending eviction. Since most eviction cases are due to non-payment of rent, defendants, who can’t afford rent, probably can’t afford a lawyer. Tenants without counsel must face the confusing court system and complex housing law on their own, while others might not be able to attend their court hearing at all due to childcare, employment, or transportation issues. For people with disabilities and those who do not speak English, the barriers are even higher. 

In 2020, as COVID-19 hit Massachusetts, the state put a temporary moratorium on evictions. With the scores of the population out of work, this humanitarian stopgap was essential in allowing people to stay in their homes during times of a deadly transmissible virus and stay-at-home orders. But the moratorium ended in October 2020, followed by the end of the federal moratorium in August 2021. Since then, evictions have snowballed.

Evictions are a racial justice issue. Black and Latine households are more likely than white households to rent. Research indicates these communities are also over-represented in households facing eviction. In Massachusetts, eviction cases and eviction outcomes were more frequent in communities with a higher proportion of Black and Hispanic residents. This correlation was highly statistically significant.

Adults aren’t the only ones affected by evictions – kids are too. On average, 11 percent of children under age 5 face eviction each year in Massachusetts. For Black and Hispanic communities, the percentage of children facing eviction triples at 27 percent. These evictions lead to a vicious cycle of disrupting educational engagement, contributing to higher dropout rates, and negatively affecting physical and mental health. In this way, evictions contribute to lasting generational harms that can scar communities of color for many years to come.

We need meaningful action to prevent unfair evictions. Right to counsel will correct the power imbalance that gives landlords an unfair advantage in eviction cases. Tenants deserve a fair process. Massachusetts legislators can balance the scales.  

Learn more: An Act promoting access to counsel and housing stability in Massachusetts (H.1731/S.864)

Further reading:

Anthony Cilluffo, A.W. Geiger & Richard Fry, More U.S. Households Are Renting Than At Any Point In 50 Years, Pew Research Center Fact Tank (July 19, 2017), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/19/more-u-s-households-are-renting-than-at-any-point-in-50-years/  

Jaboa Lake, The Pandemic Has Exacerbated Housing Instability for Renters of Color, Center for American Progress (October 30, 2020), https://cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/2020/10/29133957/Renters-of-Color-2.pdf

Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller & Alicia Parlapiano. The Americans Most Threatened by Eviction: Young Children, The New York Times (October 2, 2023). https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/02/upshot/evictions-children-american-renters.html