By Amanda Morejon ’16
When I accepted my first case with the Tenant Advocacy Project, it seemed straightforward enough. My client, a wheel-chair dependent man in his late 60s, had applied to the Boston Housing Authority’s Public Housing Program several years ago. In the last few years he had become very active in his church and neighborhood community and maintained his skills as a former chef. After moving to the top of the wait-list and passing all the neighbor screenings and financial requirements, his application was denied due to an old criminal record.
My first thought was that the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) simply did not realize that my client had changed his life. I imagined that once the BHA saw the mitigating evidence, their opinion of my client would change. I was surprised to find that they had already reviewed letters of support from his former employers and letters from his church community. I quickly learned that the Occupancy Department at the BHA will not approve an applicant who has any criminal record no matter how minor or how old the record is. Fortunately, my client could appeal the decision and contacted the Tenant Advocacy Project.
I was assigned to his case in September and almost four months later (a day before my last exam) we were informed that the Appeal Hearing would take place in two weeks, on the first day that students returned to campus from winter break.
With the guidance of my supervisor, Lynn Weissberg, I prepared the case for our hearing. I compiled the mitigating evidence and character reference letters, gathered additional letters of support, analyzed the BHA’s Admissions & Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP), researched similar cases with favorable outcomes, drafted direct examination questions for my client, and wrote my closing argument. In the two weeks leading up to the hearing, I went over the material with him, reviewed his criminal record, and discussed the changes he had made in his life after his last conviction. My client’s testimony would serve as the strongest source of mitigating evidence so ensuring he felt comfortable answering my direct examination questions was hugely important.
On the day of the hearing, everything came together. My client was able to clearly communicate with the Hearing Officer and answered both my questions and her questions directly. His thoughtful character and commitment to his community shone through in his testimony. His cousin and his close friend both attended and testified regarding his character. Sixteen business days later we received the decision and the denial of public housing was overturned. This wonderful news meant that my client was placed back at the top of the wait-list.
Without the guidance of my supervisor, the general support from the TAP community, and my client’s trust and patience, we may not have achieved this outcome. Knowing that unfair decisions can be overturned and indigent individuals like my client can have their voices heard has given me much hope and confidence. With due diligence we can work to ensure that people’s rights to receive public housing are protected.