Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services Impact Advocacy
Currently, CASLS is involved in the following legislative efforts at the state level seeking:
- passage of a state law to expand housing opportunities by creating a preference for homeless and/or those at imminent risk of homelessness in buildings financed by MassHousing and other quasi-government entities which hold a portfolio of over 30,000 residential units.
- to amend the eviction storage bill to preserve homeless tenants’ right to have control over where their belongings are being stored. Such access to personal items and paperwork post-eviction is often critical to a homeless family’s ability to obtaining new affordable housing and/or food stamp or other benefits.
- to eliminate or reduce harmful effects of several pending bills which severely curtail tenants’ rights to defend evictions.
Currently, CASLS is representing various tenant groups on impact advocacy work including:
Alliance of Cambridge Tenants (ACT)
Formed in April of 2009, ACT is a democratically elected city-wide group representing over 5,000 public housing and voucher tenants of the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA). ACT represents both federal and state tenants in both public housing and voucher programs and is the only such group in the country that plays this role.
As one of a few housing authorities across the country that was selected to participate in a demonstration project called “Moving to Work,” the CHA is free from most federal regulations and is able to develop its own policies affecting all aspects of federal public housing and Section 8 programs, as well as create new and innovative housing programs.
CASLS provides advice and training to ACT members including those staffing the ACT office as well as directly to tenants. CASLS also represents ACT on commenting on CHA’s proposed policy changes (and implementation) and in seeking additional changes. Recently, this has included obtaining changes to: CHA’s reasonable accommodation policy; criteria for emergency admission to public housing and Section 8 subsidies; and CHA’s public housing rent formula (known as “rent simplification”). In the near future, CASLS anticipates working with ACT on the CHA’s plans to overhaul its public housing lease and its Section 8 Administrative Plan which sets forth its policies for the voucher programs.
Cambridge Public Housing Resident Councils
CASLS is representing three CHA public housing resident councils in two family developments and one elderly/disabled development undergoing modernization. In all three situations, tenants were temporarily relocated. The buildings will be substantially rehabbed or else demolished and rebuilt and a new form of ownership (with new rules) will be implemented once the modernization is complete.
The rehabbed project will be a combination of public housing, Section 8 project-based subsidies, and/or low income housing tax credits and it will have a new non-profit owner. Our work involves negotiating fair relocation rights and procedures as well as tenant and applicant rights to the newly rehabbed buildings.
"Expiring Use” Buildings
CASLS advocates — along with the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee and ACT — are working with tenants living in affordable apartments in three different buildings where there is/was a risk that the affordability would end.
In two instances, CASLS assisted tenants to negotiate continued long-term affordability by allowing the owner (same and new) to attach new tenant-based rent subsidies to the apartments so that the units will be affordable for future tenants but the existing tenants would also be able to move with a rental subsidy.
In the other building, CASLS is working with tenants where the owners want to sell.This is the first building where a non-profit organization has been designated by the state to have the right of first purchase under the 2009 state law known as Chapter 40T. For more on “expiring use,” see GBLS’ Housing Unit’s information on preserving subsidized housing.
Affordable Housing Organizing Committee (AHOC)
CASLS is a leader in the Affordable Housing Organizing Committee's (AHOC) work to increase funding for affordable housing and to prevent displacement of low income families and individuals in Somerville.
AHOC has succeeded in obtaining passage of increased linkage fees. These fees are paid to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund when commercial real estate is developed. AHOC also succeeded in increasing the number of affordable units which must be produced under the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance in some districts within the city. AHOC also works to support projects which would lead to new affordable housing including providing testimony at planning and zoning board hearings.
Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance’s Advisory Board for the Revere Office
An attorney at CASLS was appointed by Governor Patrick to sit on a local advisory board that makes policy recommendations regarding the delivery of Transitional Assistance to Families and Dependent Children (TAFDC), SNAP/Food Stamps and other critical benefits. This attorney serves as secretary of the Advisory Board and sits on the homelessness subcommittee.