71-year-old Dorchester renter Frank Sharpe was on the brink of homelessness, but with strong legal aid and community organizing, he won a reprieve from eviction
Boston, MA: Mr. Frank Sharpe, an elderly veteran who rents an apartment in Dorchester, was expecting moving trucks and a sheriff to show up at his house next week and remove him from his home. With his small fixed income, Sharpe has been unable to line up an affordable alternative to call home and feared homelessness as coronavirus cases continue to spread.
But on Friday, February 12th, Sharpe won a reprieve from eviction. A judge postponed his eviction for another three months after hearing arguments from legal aid attorney Maggie Gribben of Greater Boston Legal Services. Sharpe has a "no fault" eviction case - he's been able to make his rent payments, but his landlord is still pushing to evict.
"I feel elated," said Mr. Sharpe from his Dorchester apartment. "It's a relief. The pressure was on me. It’s like a balloon being released, and I want to thank God,” Mr. Sharpe said.
City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots housing justice organization that has supported Sharpe throughout the pandemic, organized opportunities for Sharpe to speak out publicly in defense of his home. Throughout the pandemic, Sharpe has shared his story with news outlets and at vigils aimed at preventing evictions around Boston.
Photo: Mr. Frank Sharpe speaks out to prevent his eviction at a vigil in December, 2020. Courtesy of City Life/Vida Urbana.
Driven by Sharpe's enduring spirit, a team of community organizers and legal aid attorneys coalesced to prevent Sharpe's eviction. The combination of public protest and legal defense is what the team calls the "sword and shield" model - an effective strategy that has prevented evictions throughout the Boston area since the foreclosure crisis.
The handful of months that Frank won in his home give him a little more time to secure an alternative apartment and avoid homelessness. But nothing is guaranteed.
A flurry of media attention surrounding Sharpe's eviction brought the case to the attention of Governor Baker's office. Whether or not Baker will step in and assist Sharpe in landing an affordable apartment for the long-term is yet to be seen. An online petition is calling on Baker to support Sharpe and all Massachusetts residents facing non-emergency evictions.
"Governor Baker allowed non-emergency evictions to continue in this pandemic, which almost led to a veteran becoming homeless," said Helen Matthews of City Life/Vida Urbana.
"We shouldn't have to work miracles on a case-by-case basis to prevent evictions - and the spread of the coronavirus that flows from evictions. So we're calling on the Governor to stop all non-emergency evictions in the pandemic and to help Sharpe find an affordable home," said Matthews.
"Governor Baker needs to put a ban on all unnecessary and no-fault evictions to protect thousands of families during this pandemic," said Antonio Ennis, a housing justice organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana.
Despite a federal moratorium on evictions in place through next month, many Massachusetts judges are still evicting families in the pandemic. In December 2020 alone, Massachusetts judges executed 449 evictions, according to the Massachusetts Trial Court. Housing justice organizers and attorneys say that the moratorium's failure to clearly address and prevent no-fault evictions is one of its biggest loopholes.
"There are many people in Frank's shoes right now," said Steve Meacham, Coordinator of Organizing at City Life/Vida Urbana. "No-fault evictions like this are not clearly prevented by the federal eviction moratorium from Centers for Disease Control, so many people are falling through the cracks," Meacham said.
Photo: Boston residents show solidarity with Frank Sharpe at a vigil to prevent his eviction in December, 2020. Photo courtesy of City Life/Vida Urbana.