An effort to block the eviction of a family from its rental home turned into a celebration Wednesday, when, after months of effort by HLS students, the bank instead agreed to discuss selling the Dorchester house to the family so they could stay in place.
It was a victory in a wider effort to stop the epidemic of foreclosures and evictions throughout the Boston area, a project launched late last year by two students in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Dave Haller ’09 and Nick Hartigan ’09, with the guidance of HLAB director David Grossman. The project now includes at least 100 HLS students affiliated with HLAB, the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, a group of about 25 1Ls from Section Four, and others.
“This solution’s been there the whole time, and it’s gratifying to see our efforts result in the bank finally deciding to act rationally,” said Haller. Four adult siblings and six children live at the three-unit Dorchester house, which the adults also run as a licensed daycare center. Although the tenants have always paid their rent on time, their landlord lost the building in foreclosure, and the family was ordered to leave. When they offered to purchase the building for its full appraised value, the bank refused, and also turned down another person’s offer to buy it so the family could stay. According to Haller, the bank’s actions made “no moral sense [and] no economic sense.” Despite numerous court appearances and other legal measures initiated by Haller and Hartigan, the bank secured an eviction order, which was to be executed at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Along with members of City Life and other community organizations, students planned to block the eviction. But early Tuesday evening, they learned that the bank had decided to forego the eviction in favor of discussing a sale to the family.
About a dozen HLS students joined the blockade-turned-rally, at which 50 people held placards supporting the family.
With Grossman’s support, Haller, Hartigan, and other HLAB students launched the anti-foreclosure effort late last year, and solicited help from other HLS student groups. In the past several months, students have assisted hundreds of Boston residents, representing a growing number of clients in court, drafting legislation for the city of Boston and the state legislature, and canvassing neighborhoods to urge people not to leave their homes without learning their legal rights.
Others involved include Tony Borich ’09, Monee Fakla ’08, Eric Hermann ‘09, Matt Simmons ’09, as well as three clinical instructors from the housing unit at LSC, Esme Caramello ’99, Rafael Mares, and Maureen McDonagh. Haller and Hartigan have also reached out to Harvard College and to law students at Suffolk and Boston Universities, signing up volunteers willing to work with tenants and homeowners.
HLS students drafted legislation that was introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature in early April and was endorsed by Governor Deval Patrick ’82, a former president of the Legal Aid Bureau.