Spring 2021 Newsletter
2021 Spring Newsletter
There’s hope in the air for many of us, with more and more people receiving vaccinations (including many GBLS staff members!) and warmer days upon us. I think I speak for all of us at GBLS when I say that we are grateful for hope. The past year has been a lot – a lot of uncertainty, a lot of trauma, a lot of long hours, and a lot of clients served.
In 2020, GBLS handled a whopping 14,468 cases, a 34% increase over the previous year. All while adapting to working remotely and caring for our own families and concerns. All while pushing ourselves to do more, to be more accessible, to be more intentional about the anti-poverty, anti-racist values we bring to our work. And all in partnership with many of you – our colleagues, our supporters, and our community.
I hope you, too, are feeling more hopeful. There is a tremendous amount of work ahead to continue to help others in our community who have been especially hard hit by this pandemic, who deserve justice, opportunities, and stability. And their fair share of hope, too.
Keeping people in their homes, with help from CELHP
After the statewide eviction ban expired in October 2020, GBLS’ housing attorneys feared that a “tidal wave of evictions” would destabilize thousands of Massachusetts families. In response, the Kraft Family/Patriots Player Fund, the Liberty Mutual Foundation, and others rallied to provide funds to GBLS to address the increased emergency need for legal assistance for tenants.
The Commonwealth also responded to the impending crisis, launching a statewide COVID-19 Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) to coordinate legal service organizations and provide free legal assistance to tenants in COVID-related eviction cases. As a recipient of CELHP funding, GBLS brought on a number of new, temporary staff people to help address the crisis, including 10 new attorneys, 11 paralegals, and 3 intake workers dedicated to helping tenants stay stably housed.
To qualify for legal assistance through CELHP, a household’s income must be less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($4,417 per week for a family of four), and the eviction must be related to COVID.
Since CELHP attorneys began their work at GBLS, the impact has been immense. In one successful CELHP case, “Renee,” a frontline medical worker and full-time student who had never missed a rent payment until COVID, lost her job and fell into rental arrears. After contacting GBLS, Renee’s CELHP attorney helped her apply for short-term financial assistance through Residential Assistance to Families in Transition (RAFT) while Renee continued to pay what she could towards her rent debt. Renee was approved for RAFT, which covered her arrearage and provided a monthly stipend for the remainder of her lease. Today, Renee has the RAFT stipend and a new full-time job providing COVID tests. After the stress of facing an eviction during the pandemic, Renee can again rely on the roof over her head.
"An advocate by nature” - A conversation with paralegal Sandra Tavarez
Sandra Tavarez has worked in the legal field since age 17, having gotten her start working in the copy room of a downtown law firm. Sandra began working at GBLS in 2015 as an Administrative Secretary/Legal Assistant in GBLS’ Cambridge and Somerville office. She quickly showed her competence and passion by taking on more and more responsibility, and this past summer Sandra started a new role as a paralegal in the Employment Law Unit.
GBLS: Tell us about your new role!
ST: I have been a paralegal in the Employment Law Unit since July 2020. I decided to apply for this job because I had been doing paralegal-level work for years but wasn’t working under that title. I am an advocate by nature and wanted to use that skillset in my work. At GBLS, paralegals handle their own cases, including representation at the administrative level at departmental hearings.
Now, my days consist of doing intakes with clients based on referrals, following up with the 7-12 clients who I help to make their weekly unemployment claims, 1 or 2 hearings per week, callbacks with former clients who still have problems because the unemployment system continues to present us with challenges, and managing the Spanish intake line for the Employment Unit, all while handling my current caseload, Union and committee work. Recently I won a favorable decision for client, but even though you win the case, it doesn’t mean you’re done. I don’t close a case until I am sure the client is getting everything they’re entitled to. I’m a fighter – I don’t quit.
GBLS: Why is your work important?
ST: My work is important because I am able to help clients in such a meaningful way, given that they often come to us with more than one issue. I also love that I get to establish a relationship with clients and that they often tell me that they feel like they are being heard for the first time in a long time. I love the work, as hard as it is, and I’m glad I can help people every day. The ability to provide financial stability during such an unpredictable, frightening time in our lives makes all the difference for the vulnerable demographic which GBLS serves. I am very proud to be doing this kind of work.
GBLS: You're involved with GBLS’ Racial Justice Committee. Why is this work important for GBLS?
ST: This work is critical not just in light of current events but because we have longstanding issues within our organization that we want to address and improve upon. I am currently on two of the subcommittees of the Racial Justice Committee – Workplace, which addresses issues involving workplace culture, developing trainings, and the establishment of affinity groups beyond the already in place Attorneys of Color group; and Workforce, which deals with developing best hiring practices, retention, and professional development of professionals of color. We are all very optimistic about creating a more inclusive and transparent work environment.
GBLS: What other ways are you involved in the GBLS community?
ST: I am the Vice Chair for Staff Association Union, I run the Staff of Color affinity group, I am a member of the Access Group and the Limited English Proficiency Committee, the Staff Union, labor management, and I advocate for and organize GBLS' presence at the Pride Parade.
GBLS: What are your hobbies outside of work?
ST: My hobbies are reading, drawing, painting, cooking, baking and karaoke! I also love movies and am a true crime aficionado.
GBLS: What are you most looking forward to in post-COVID life?
ST: Travel, concerts and being with friends/family. Let's not forget the importance of being able to leave our work at the office so we have a healthy separation between work and home.
Thank you, Sandra, for your passion and tenacity in fighting for GBLS’ clients, and for all of your important contributions to the GBLS community!
Empowering Tenants Together
Since May 2020, GBLS has been working in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority and City Life/Vida Urbana on a Tenant Empowerment Project. The project is funded by the Innovative Stable Housing Initiative (ISHI) Upstream Fund, an innovative pilot project funded by Boston Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital as part of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Determination of Need Community Health Initiative. ISHI’s goal is to identify, assess, and fund strategic approaches to increase housing stability for vulnerable populations, which aligns with the project’s goal to work with public housing tenants to prepare them for changes in ownership and management of public housing developments, ensuring that their housing rights and needs are met throughout the process. GBLS, BHA, and CL/VU had the opportunity to present about this topic at the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association Virtual Conference in November, highlighting the unique collaboration between public health, housing, and community partners.
GBLS at the (Virtual) State House: A Report on GBLS Client/Staff Lobby Day
On March 4, GBLS hosted its first-ever remote Client/Staff Lobby Day for civil legal aid, during which GBLS clients, community partners, and staff advocated for increased funding for legal aid in Massachusetts. We send our heartfelt gratitude to GBLS client Marlon Hernandez, who shared his story with event attendees. Deep thanks are also due to the event’s sponsors, Representatives Tram Nguyen and Chynah Tyler, and to all of the legislators who attended the event program and expressed their support!
Please join us in asking your legislators to support increased funding for legal aid in MA by clicking here. Thank you!
Greater Boston Legal Services provides free legal assistance in civil (noncriminal) matters to low-income families and individuals in the Greater Boston area, helping people access the basic necessities of life, including shelter, healthcare, and safety from abuse.
Please consider making a gift to GBLS to help make "justice for all" a reality for our most vulnerable neighbors. Thank you for supporting civil legal aid!
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