Every Thursday evening, in the lobby of a city-owned building on Court Street, a team of counselors sits ready to help tackle one of Boston’s thorniest challenges. One tenant at a time.
It’s a weekly clinic for at-risk renters, part of a push by the Walsh administration to combat displacement. The clinics are run by the city’s new Office of Housing Stability, which Mayor Martin J. Walsh created last year to try to help the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Bostonians pushed out of their homes each year by disasters, rent increases, and their landlords’ redevelopment plans.
To Lydia Edwards, a former legal aid attorney who launched the effort, the clinics highlight the many hazards renters can face in one of the nation’s priciest housing markets. Not just rent hikes but broader troubles — a fire, job loss, domestic abuse — can put tenants at risk of losing their homes. “People enter a housing crisis for all sorts of reasons,” she says. “Our office is doing our best to come up with systems to help them.”
While the clinics are the hands-on leading edge, the Office of Housing Stability has big-picture policy goals, too. Edwards — prior to taking a leave to run for City Council this fall — and her team lobby city and state lawmakers to strengthen tenant protection laws, including one that would, finally, allow the city to track eviction activity as it happens. At the same time, they’re talking with landlords, building relationships, and encouraging policies they hope will head off evictions.
All of it, she says, is built around encouraging conversation among tenants, landlords, and City Hall, three constituencies that often can feel as if they’re speaking completely different languages. “We have to come up with a way we can talk and have all of us feel like part of the solution,” Edwards says.