FITCHBURG — A mother and her two young children were separated, after losing their home and their belongings, as a result of actions taken by the Fitchburg Housing Authority, the woman and her attorney say.
Crystal Morancy and her attorney said despite paying back rent owed to the FHA and never being informed of her right to legal counsel, the public housing agency proceeded to evict her and her children anyway. To avoid becoming homeless, Morancy and her children became separated from each other.
Morancy was issued a Notice to Quit, a legal document from a landlord that starts an eviction proceeding, over the unpaid back rent. However, the notice should have been null and void by law, canceling the eviction proceedings with rent paid in excess of what was owed. If the FHA wished to proceed, a new Notice to Quit, with a new and different reason, should have been filed.
A new notice never happened and Morancy was never informed of her right to an attorney, something all local housing authority tenants have in Massachusetts.
Morancy’s lawyer Alexander Sneirson said he believes the FHA’s failure to provide notice of right to counsel is a “habitual failure” affecting other public housing tenants. He said a right to counsel “is nothing short of a big deal.”
“This case essentially boils down to two things: one, going through the motions for the sake of expediency; and two, ignorance or gross negligence of the law,” Sneirson said, but said he “doesn’t think this happened with any sort of malicious intent.”
FHA continued the eviction by obtaining summary judgment from the court over a non-existing $648 nonpayment of rent — plus potential future rent due — and didn’t provide all the necessary documentation, nor did FHA disclose that the rent had actually been paid.
Leominster District Court approved the final eviction, and allowed FHA to take possession of Morancy’s home and belongings.
Morancy believed that the eviction was over. She had paid $650 and had proof of it. She didn’t receive notification that the eviction was going forward, and wasn’t present in court, nor was she represented by anyone.
At the time of the court proceedings, Morancy was receiving intensive inpatient treatment for a mental health crisis. Additionally, Morancy’s mother was receiving treatment for an illness at local hospitals and had planned to recover at her daughter’s home, while helping Morancy because she was incapacitated and unable to manage her own affairs.
Instead, Morancy alleged that FHA ignored her mother’s repeated phone calls, voicemails, letters, and attempts to visit them during office hours, when she consistently found them closed and had to leave a note. Morancy said her mother told FHA about Morancy’s hospitalization.
“Being evicted makes me feel as if I’m being punished for having a disability … I am not at fault for having been in the hospital. I don’t know why I am being discriminated against for something that was beyond my control. The result of which, we lost the roof over our heads losing any feeling of safety or security for my children or myself. The pain, helplessness, fear, terror, and anxiety that I carry daily now I wouldn’t wish upon anyone,” Morancy said.
“We lost what I had referred to as our ‘forever home.’ We lost our little community that we had fought so hard to get. We lost memories [and keepsake items] that no amount of money could ever replace,“ like paintings by her grandfather and recordings of her grandmother’s voice.
Even the children lost their personal possessions as well as the sanctity of their home with their mother. The oldest was mature enough to understand what was happening, and the trauma of it all has taken a toll on them, as well as protecting their younger sibling from something he doesn’t quite understand yet. Still, they struggle with separation anxiety when leaving people, places, and things because everything feels impermanent.
The children now live with relatives in Attleboro and attend school there while Morancy lives in Spencer with her mother, in a home too small for both of them.
“Being a parent is the most rewarding, best thing in the world … as a mother it is my job to protect and provide. I feel as if that has been stripped from me as a result of [FHA]; because of this unjust action I have no place to raise my children,” Morancy said.
Subsidized housing is crucially important for disabled low-income people like Morancy. “The goal is to keep people off the streets, not the other way around. It’s shocking, to say the least,” Sneirson said.
FHA Executive Director Doug Bushman did not provide answers or answer public records requests seeking information on how many tenants had been evicted since 2019 or the methods which FHA used to pursue those evictions. Instead, Bushman elected to speak in a more general context.
“The FHA pursues evictions if tenants do not pay their rent and or if they violate other lease provisions. The FHA prides itself on working with the tenants in assisting them with rent repayment agreements or helping them apply for rental assistance payments,” Bushman said.
“I feel so alone, abandoned, and wronged,” Morancy said, “How could they do this? This has torn our lives apart.”
Sneirson filed a Motion for Release from Judgement for Morancy based on the illegality of the eviction, which is public record.
“The regulations are quite clear,” he said, but “laws and regulations only have meaning once they’re enforced.”
Sneirson doesn’t know why Leominster District Court has allowed these evictions — but does think that with the avenues available at the trial court level for recourse, the court can fix its mistakes for Morancy and potentially other tenants who have been evicted.
Morancy wants the eviction removed from her records and her housing reinstated so her family can “reside under the same roof and become whole again.” She would also like compensation for the value of the contents FHA caused to be lost.
“It takes years to get into a housing authority; you’re competing against hundreds of thousands of applicants across the state,” Sneirson said.
Additionally, an eviction on a person’s records can have a snowball effect on their ability to obtain housing, credit, and even employment.
Sneirson said, “Local housing authorities are supposed to be on the frontlines against homelessness. They’re charged with a well-intentioned mission and funded by the state to do so.”