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City Council Seeks to Increase Legal Representation for Tenants

The Cambridge City Council meets on Monday night at City Hall, located in Central Square. The Council unanimously voted to increase legal protection for tenants.
The Cambridge City Council meets on Monday night at City Hall, located in Central Square. The Council unanimously voted to increase legal protection for tenants. By Marina Qu
By Laurel M. Shugart and Olivia W. Zheng, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge City Council unanimously voted in support of a policy order to increase the legal protection and right to counsel for tenants during a Monday evening meeting.

The policy order seeks to reduce evictions by increasing tenant access to legal representation and relaxing emergency rental assistance procedures. Councilors introduced the policy report following an increase in evictions, due in part to a temporary moratorium on evictions expiring in June 2021.

“People faced a lot of difficulties having to hold on to their housing once that moratorium was lifted,” said Mayor E. Denise Simmons in the meeting.

Tenants currently comprise roughly two-thirds of all Cambridge residents. Massachusetts law currently provides no right to counsel for tenants facing eviction, meaning that less than 4 percent of tenants statewide had legal representation in eviction cases in 2023, compared to nearly 90 percent of landlords.

The policy order, sponsored by Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Burhan Azeem, Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, and Ayesha M. Wilson, asks Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 to evaluate the city’s resources around legal representation for tenants. The order sets a goal that every Cambridge tenant who makes 80 percent or less of the area median income is ensured legal representation.

The policy order also asks the City’s Multi-Service Center to be more flexible in financial assistance for tenants facing eviction.

“It’s asking the city manager to improve our city resources, if necessary, so that every Cambridge tenant who is served with the summary process complaints — that’s fancy language for an eviction — and has a household income of more than 80 percent AMI has access to representation by a lawyer in court, if the tenant requests,” Siddiqui said.

“I don’t think this is asking the city to start from scratch and build out a completely new piece,” said Sobrinho-Wheeler. “This is just asking the city to go a little further and help ensure that all the folks who need this resource are able to get it.”

At Simmons’s suggestion, the Council amended the policy order to ensure that notice of tenants’ rights and resources are given to property management companies in addition to landlords and tenants.

—Staff writer Laurel M. Shugart can be reached at laurel.shugart@thecrimson.com. Follow them on X @laurelmshugart or on Threads @laurel.shugart.

—Staff writer Olivia W. Zheng can be reached at olivia.zheng@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @oliviawzg.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilMetroHousing