Action: Sign on to Right to Counsel and Eviction Sealing (HOMES) Bills!

The Western MA Network to End Homelessness has joined two statewide legislative campaigns that would help prevent and end homelessness: Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases and Eviction Sealing (HOMES).  A key aspect of these campaigns is to grow its list of organizational supporters.   I am relaying this information in the hopes that your organization will sign on by going here for Right to Counsel and here for Eviction Sealing.

Right to Counsel: Right now in Massachusetts, over 90% of tenants face eviction without lawyers while over 70% of landlords have legal representation. Homelessness is frequently a direct and avoidable consequence as a result of this imbalance.

Please join the growing list of organizations and municipalities supporting Right to Counsel.  

There are currently 3 bills before the Legislature that would provide a right to counsel in eviction proceedings.  The Right to Counsel Coalition has submitted a bill to the Judiciary Committee that would coalesce all three and also include access to legal representation for low-income small landlords of owner-occupied homes who rely on rent to pay their mortgages.  The Coalition’s bill also charges a Civil Justice Committee with studying and making recommendations about how to present evictions before they get to court.

The Boston Globe published an editorial on November 6, endorsing Right to Counsel in MA.  You can read it here.  One of many worthy quotes: “For renters who don’t have the financial means, the right to a court-appointed lawyer would level the playing field and offer them a better chance of success at staying in their homes”

In addition, on October 30, MA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants endorsed a right to counsel in eviction cases in his State of the Judiciary speech.  You can read about it on MassLive

Right to counsel has been enacted in New York City, San Francisco, Newak and Cleveland. Massachusetts has the opportunity to be the first state to provide a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.  New York’s experience, the first and therefore longest so far, demonstrates significant cost savings from preserving tenancies and avoiding costly shelter stays, not to mention the long-term trauma resulting from homelessness. 

Join the growing list of organizations and municipalities supporting Right to Counsel.  

Eviction Sealing (HOMES bill): Right now in Massachusetts, when a landlord files an eviction case, the filing is made publicly available by the Trial Court online and stays there forever.  No matter what happens next – if the case is dismissed by the landlord or the judge; if an agreement is reached; if the landlord ends up being liable for sanitary code violations conditions or other unlawful behavior, the record stays with the tenant forever.

This current law has inadvertently resulted in a screening device that frequently bars tenants from obtaining housing.  Landlords enter a tenant applicant’s name into the database and if the name pops up, before they have a chance to dig deeper into the outcome, they have moved on to the next applicant.  If the initial eviction complaint names the children in the household, their names are entered into the database, too, and this eviction tracks them into adulthood.

A prior eviction record – regardless of outcome – is one of the single greatest barriers to re-housing people who have experienced homelessness. To read more about it, please see this report  Evicted for Life.
The HOMES bill would change that.  It would automatically seal an eviction filing, to be made public only in the event of a negative judgment against the tenant.  It would also seal all eviction records after 3 years so that tenants are not marked for life.  

Please join the list of supporters for this bill. 

Thank you for your consideration.  Adding your organization to these coalitions will make an important contribution to our shared mission to prevent and end homelessness in Western Massachusetts.

CHAPA Update on State Supplemental Budget – Nov. 2019

Thanks to CHAPA for this update:

On October 24, 2019, the State Senate concluded debate on its FY2019 Supplemental Budget, S.2386, which closes out the FY2019 budget, which ended with a large revenue surplus. The House passed its supplemental budget on October 17. For information on the House budget, click here.

The Senate budget includes $10 million for the production of housing for extremely low-income (ELI) households (line item 1595-0508). These funds were also included in the House budget. CHAPA thanks Senate President Spilka and Ways & Means Chair Rodrigues for their investments in affordable housing.

The Senate did not include $10 million for a down payment assistance program for low- and moderate-income first time home buyers, which was included in the House supplemental budget. Although not adopted, CHAPA thanks Sen. Brendan Crighton for sponsoring an amendment to add this down payment assistance program to the budget. 

CHAPA also supported an amendment to add $5 million in the Senate budget to recapitalize the Get the Lead Out program to do lead-paint remediation in low- and moderate-income housing. Although not adopted, CHAPA thanks Sen. Julian Cyr for sponsoring the amendment. 

The Senate budget also did not include additional funds and authorizing language within Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) to support a rent and mortgage arrearage program that the House included in its budget.

The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between their respective budgets before sending it to the Governor for his signature. A conference committee is expected to be appointed to lead this reconciliation process. However, because of the way the Senate processed the House’s version of the bill, one of the two branches will need to re-vote it in order to begin a formal conference committee negotiation. This is expected to delay final budget negotiations between the House and Senate.

Career Services Committee Minutes – 11/5/19

Career Services Committee Meeting Minutes – 11/5/19
In attendance:  Shawntsi Baret, Springfield Works, Iliana Caez, MassHire Springfield, Bud Delphin, MassHire Holyoke,  Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC, Lisa Goldsmith, Community Action, Anne Kandilis, Springfield Works, Kathryn Kirby, MassHire HCWB, Lisa Lapierre, Community Action, Maegan Pedemonti, Way Finders, Justin Maynard, VA, Eneida Molina, Springfield Works, Tiffany Munford, MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, Zena Murray, Square One, Cindy Ray, MassHire FHCC, Celia Rodriguez, Square One, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Allison Scott, DIAL/SELF, Nate Taylor, Westover Job Corps
Discussion of career services in relation to YHDP:We began by reviewing the groundwork for the conversation:Both Hampden County CoC and Three County CoC (for Franklin County) have been selected by HUD to be Youth Homelessness Demonstration Programs.  They each have until April to finalize a plan of action with HUD, which if approved, will release $2.4 million for Hampden County and $1.9 million for Franklin County for programs to prevent and end youth homelessness. 
The plan must address the coordination of youth employment/education needs and housing.  The first step is to gain a clear grasp of the youth employment services that exist and then work together to better align employment and housing systems so maximum outcomes on both can occur. c

The questions before our group workforce partners today:Are you serving youth who are homeless?Do you collect data on housing status?
Also:How do we develop an effective way of interacting with young people around work readiness (clearly young people will be lead participants in answering this question).
What we learned:

  • MassHires have an assessment tool that includes a question re: housing.  That data can be obtained.
  • Youth Works (summer jobs programs) also collect data – 20% of people served must have contact with either DCF or DYS.
  • Holyoke Community College: for non-credit/adult education students, data is collected.  For enrolled students, the THRIVE center at HCC or the equivalent office at STCC have data. 
  • Leadership Employment and Advocacy Development (LEAD) – through NEFWC – serves youth who are leaving residential treatment through DYS – data is available.  
  • DTA’s Young Parent Program (YPP) – via CPM and Care Center
  • Teen Living Program (TPP) in Hampden County
  • Boys and Girls Clubs via the Shannon Grant, working with Holyoke and Chicopee youth 
  • WIOA mandates collaboration with certain partners and we should be sure to make those connections. 
  • Secure Jobs Initiative via Way Finders – they track housing and retention – a great model for wrap-around services, flexible funding – let’s use this in our planning!

Springfield Works  is working to pilot a “collective outreach and recruiting system” that creates a cross-sector collaborative tool for determining “ready, willing and able” to work.  
All agreed that lack of housing does not necessarily mean “not ready” to work; if there is a desire to work, that is sufficient.
Westover Job Corps is another resource that provides free housing for 2 years to 16-24 year olds who are homeless.  Must be drug and alcohol free.  Currently have 353 young people with a capacity for 470.  Spots can be hard to fill due to restrictions.  We should also think about system connections for young people who are expelled from the program due to violations.

Opportunity Academy – an alternative high school program in Holyoke – another consideration is youth who are better off completing the MCAS and graduating from their high school (as opposed to bypassing high school).  Many young people who are unstably housed are still thinking about college.  Our system response needs to account for that. 
Coordinated entry for determining vulnerability and assessing prioritizing for housing support is a vehicle that ultimately can incorporate education and employment needs, i.e.,we are aiming to create a single portal that assesses needs in multiple areas and makes appropriate referrals.  One goal is to provide shelter providers with an appropriate web of support and referrals so they can know where and how to guide a youth who is interested in further education or employment. 
Hampden County Workforce Board offers train the trainer workshops that provide staff with skills for training young people on how to do job search and other soft skills. This is offered a few times a year. 
Other Updates:

  • Built for Zero: This is a national initiative sponsored by the national non-profit Community Solutions that includes over 75 communities (550 people) from across the country working to prevent and end homelessness.  The Hampden County CoC is participating and the team (Pamela and Gerry included) just returned from its last “learning session” in late October in November.  It was extremely inspiring, providing both a big-picture frame for the work (around racial equity, inclusiveness, consumer leadership) and concrete tools (how to run a coordinated entry meeting, create a by-name list, etc.).  Pamela is relaying information to the Three County CoC and hopefully it will be able to join soon. The current focus is on ending veteran and chronic homelessness but includes a goal of ending all forms of homelessness.  Very exciting work!
  • Network trainings: The Network just sponsored a very successful training on “overcoming tenant screening barriers” on October 31,led by Community Legal Aid Attorney Jane Edmonstone; its next training is an overview of EA/Home/BASE programs, offered by DHCD staff, on November 14.  Also on the docket is a training on budget and policy advocacy, led by attorneys at Mass Law Reform Institute on January 28 (stay tuned for a formal registration notice).
  • Right to Counsel and HOMES Act: The Network is participating in the statewide campaigns to pass two bills that would greatly impact our efforts to prevent and reduce homelessness: Right to Counsel for low-income tenants and Eviction Sealing (HOMES Act).  Pamela will send out information to organizations so they can consider joining the growing coalitions in support of both.  The Boston Globe just editorialized in support of Right to Counsel, and MA Supreme Court Justice Gants publicly endorsed the proposal.  Stay tuned for more information. 

Next meeting: Monday, December 9, 9:30 am – 11:00 am Kittredge Center, Room 301, HCC. 

UPDATED: USDA reopens public comment period. Help maintain access to free school lunch and SNAP for millions!

From our partners at EMPath (Note: housing stability depends on resources like this one):

Dear Friend,

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reopened the public comment period for the proposed rule change to categorical eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). New data shows that nearly one million children could lose their free school lunch as a result of this proposed rule change.As you know, the Trump Administration proposed a rule that would take away SNAP benefits from millions of children, seniors and hard-working individuals.The proposed rule guts broad-based categorical eligibility.

SNAP is one of our nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs. In 2018, it helped more than 38 million people in the United States access critical food benefits. This proposed rule will result in even more children and their families going hungry.Click here and visit HandsOffSNAP.org for more information on how the proposed rule harms children, working families and vulnerable individuals.Click here to share your personal story with EMPath
 
Click here to submit a PERSONALIZED comment on the proposed rule!

Take action to protect access to free school lunch AND SNAP for millions including children! Deadline to submit comments is now
Friday, November 1.

If you have not submitted a comment yet, use the button above to tell the Administration why free school lunch AND SNAP is important to you and why this stricter rule would be harmful. Personalize your comments as the Administration must read and record every unique comment they receive!

Thank you for your support.
 If you have any questions, please contact Chelsea Sedani at csedani@empathways.org or 617-259-2936.

Advocacy tool to protect tenants from “political storms”

FYI on this new release from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC):

Tenant Talk: Protecting Public Housing from Political Storms

NLIHC released today the fall 2019 edition of Tenant Talk: Protecting Public Housing from Political Storms, a publication dedicated to low-income residents and their allies. This newest edition focuses on the issues faced by public housing residents, the history of public housing in the U.S., new threats to the program, and opportunities to protect and expand this critically important affordable housing program.

The Network presents at FCRN’s legislative breakfast; take-aways available here

On Friday, October 18, I was honored to provide the key-note talk for Franklin County Resources Network’s 15th Annual Legislative Breakfast. The event’s theme, Steps to Stability: Finding Hope and Home in Franklin County, provided a great opportunity for the Network to bring its work to the broader Franklin County community, particularly around state legislative initiatives that would make a significant impact in Franklin County and beyond.

It was a great morning, joined by Senator Jo Comerford and staff from the offices of Senator Adam Hinds, Representative Paul Mark and Representative Natalie Blais, as well as a powerful panel of Franklin County residents sharing their lived experience and the positive impact made by critically important support and services.

My presentation on State Policy as a Force for Ending Homelessness: How Communities Can Organize for Change was accompanied by concrete Action Steps organizations can take right now. You can learn more about two key legislative priorities here: Right to Counsel for Tenants and Eviction Sealing (HOMES). Please take a look and join us!

Also check out the Greenfield Recorder’s front page, top-of-the-fold coverage. Congratulations and big thanks to the Franklin County Resources Network for making this event happen. Special thanks to Keleigh Pereira, Three County CoC Program Director and Community Action Executive Director Clare Higgins for their Network partnership, along with so many other vital partners across Franklin County. Together, we are making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring!

–Pamela Schwartz, Director, Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness

October 16 Action Alert: TODAY on the MA ID Bill

Yesterday, the MA Joint Transportation Committee heard testimony on the MA ID Bill – S. 2043/H. 3066 – to make it possible to obtain a MA ID with a fee waiver and with alternative residency requirements so a permanent address is not necessary. Legal identification is critical to obtaining employment, education, financial accounts and of course stable housing. The Network submitted written testimony in support of this bill.

TODAY, the House will debate its Supplemental Budget. Representative Representatives Khan of Newton and O’Day of West Boylston have filed Amendment #45 to the budget that would make this legislative change happen now. Please call or email your Representative TODAY to encourage their adoption of this Amendment.

You can find your legislator here.

Thank you!