There are no shortage of laws and protections that state government and local leaders have put in place to protect residents, but the law on paper and the reality on the street sometimes don’t match up.
That’s why Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff, including Everett School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros, had thousands of fliers printed up with good, concise information about eviction protections, price gouging, unemployment benefits, sick time and health insurance. Those fliers were translated into 10 languages and last weekend, AG Healey kicked-off an information and assistance tour in Chelsea and Everett – two of the hardest hit locales in the state.
In Everett, they visited the Grace Food Pantry on Sunday and spoke with people waiting in line to distribute information to them. On Saturday, they visited the Chelsea Collaborative to hand out the fliers to those coming for hygiene items and food.
What they found was exactly what they suspected – that many were having their rights violated despite the protections that have been put in place.
“We heard that a number of times from people in line, people complained of landlords harassing them and saying if they didn’t pay rent now, they would change the locks on them,” she said. “These are evictions that landlords cannot pursue. We even asked them to give us their landlord’s number right there and we had staff call them and talk to the landlord about it. We had a number of people we were able to get numbers from who were waiting in line and we’re following up on them. That’s important because we don’t need people thrown out in the streets. That’s why it’s great and important to be out and on the ground.”
Healey said they knew at the outset that many communities of color, low-income communities and those with large populations of essential workers would be hit hard by the virus and by the economic implications. With a lack of good information available, Healey said she and her staff felt they could be a great conduit to produce and distribute reliable information.
“They need to know they are protected from evictions and debt collection right now,” she said. “We’ve already intervened several times to stop evictions and given lots of information about worker safety. We’re delivering PPE to workers in western Massachusetts. Our job as an agency is to be a resource. We are the people’s law firm.”
Barros, who has worked for Healey for many years as chief of the Community Engagement Division, said they compiled the information as fast as they could, and had the idea they needed to be on the ground distributing them across the state.
“We translated them into 10 different languages and wanted to distribute them to ‘hot spot’ communities,” he said. “We printed 20,000 and sent them to community organizations, churches and food pantries…When we went out last weekend, people were telling AG Healey what we knew was happening from our hotline. People are not only hungry for food, but also they are hungry for information that is reliable. We heard that in Chelsea and Everett. The issues are the same – landlords and tenant issues are a hot topic. People may not speak English, but they need information right now and they have rights. It’s intense, but important work.”
AG Healey reported that Partners Healthcare has requested 12,000 copies of the fliers from her office. They intend to place them in wellness packets that will be distributed to patients at their health care facilities.