City Manager: Housing Court a Major Need in Chelsea

October 8, 2015
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As substandard housing continues to be a recurring issue within the City – especially during the upcoming heating season – several organizations and officials have renewed their call for a statewide housing court system that would encompass Chelsea.

“Absolutely Chelsea needs a housing court,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “When I was with the Supreme Judicial Court, this was a big issue. Chief Justice (Ralph) Gants has called for the expanded jurisdiction of the housing court. He wants it to be statewide. (Former City Manager) Jay Ash certainly support it. I support it…You would cover the whole state. Right now, people in Chelsea do not have access to a housing court. Housing matters are handled in the district court. There are lots of additional resources in a housing court that are available that aren’t available in a district court.”

A plan circulating throughout Beacon Hill would create several districts within the state, and each district would have a type of circuit judge that would travel within the district to hear cases.

In 2014, the state judiciary put out a call to expand housing court statewide by July 2015, which obviously did not happen. However, legislation is pending on Beacon Hill and support seems to be universal.

“We believe that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of where they live, should have the opportunity to have their housing case heard by a Housing Court, and benefit from its specialized expertise in residential housing matters,” said Gants in a 2014 statement.

Created in 1978 the Housing Court Department is a court of specialized jurisdiction that deals with residential housing matters, including landlord-tenant issues, and enforces the Commonwealth’s building, fire, and sanitary codes. Its growth over the ensuing decades has been patchwork in nature: about 20 percent of Massachusetts in geographic terms is not covered by a Housing Court and, since the uncovered areas are quite populous, about 30 percent of the state’s population does not have access to a Housing Court.

Major areas of the Commonwealth do not have the much-needed services of a Housing Court. There is no Housing Court for all of Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties, most of Norfolk County, and much of Middlesex County. Cities with some of the highest number of rental units, such as Chelsea, Framingham, Malden, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, Woburn, and Waltham, do not have a Housing Court.