Today the Boston Bar Association released a report demonstrating that establishing a right to counsel for indigent tenants in eviction cases will save the state at least $2.40 for every $1 invested.
The report—Investing in Fairness, Justice and Housing Stability: Assessing the Benefits of Full Legal Representation in Eviction Cases in Massachusetts—was developed by the nationally-known economic consulting firm Analysis Group and supports efforts by the BBA, as part of the broad-based Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition, to implement such a right to counsel for both low-income tenants and landlords, funded with new sources.
The Analysis Group findings are based on a comprehensive review of both the costs—in terms of staff salaries—and the savings in shelter, health-care, and foster-care costs associated with homelessness. These updated figures reinforce the conclusions of a 2014 Analysis Group study commissioned by the BBA, as part of a report that also calculated the benefits of providing counsel in domestic-violence and federal-benefits cases.
With the state's emergency eviction moratorium currently set to expire no later than August 18, the existing situation is expected to dramatically worsen, leaving the system potentially flooded with cases. In a typical year, state courts hear 40,000 eviction cases, in which over 90% of tenants are unrepresented. Providing counsel in those cases would assist the Court, promote justice, and—as we have now shown—save the state money.
"A right to counsel in eviction proceedings—which can prevent the trauma of eviction for thousands of people every year—is now more important than ever," said BBA President Christine M. Netski. "But establishing such a right will be for naught if it comes at the expense of existing funding for legal services. Thus, it is critical that a housing right to counsel be a companion to—not a replacement for—those appropriations."