Lawsuit targets Healey shelter ‘cap’

Gov. Maura Healey’s administration is facing a lawsuit after the governor announced earlier this month that the state would no longer guarantee housing for those protected under the state’s right-to-shelter law.

Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston filed the class action lawsuit Friday on behalf of three families the organization said are “on the brink of homelessness.”

The lawsuit seeks an emergency court hearing and a temporary restraining order to stop the state from “undermining” the right-to-shelter law, a release from the organization said.

Healey announced on Oct. 16 that the state’s emergency assistance shelter system was reaching capacity, and that the state may not be able to guarantee housing starting Nov. 1.

Under a 1983 law, Massachusetts is the only state in the country that has a legal obligation to shelter unhoused families and pregnant women.

The shelter system has been strained over the past year, as an influx of new immigrants has streamed into the state. As of Healey’s announcement last week, she said there are close to 7,000 families enrolled in the system and that they were expecting to hit 7,500 families by November. That number is more than double the number of individuals enrolled at this time last year.

Healey did not explicitly say that the state would turn people away, but said that starting on Nov. 1 the state will not add any new shelter units, and that families who come to seek housing will be assessed and those with higher needs will be prioritized for placement.

Those who do not immediately get placed in housing will be added to a waitlist, she said.

Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston alleges that these are “proposed changes to the Right-to-Shelter law,” by” imposing an artificial ‘cap’ on the total number of shelter spaces and units the State will provide to homeless families” and by “creating a ‘waiting list’ for families eligible for emergency shelter.”

“As the Complaint outlines, the unprecedented changes proposed for the emergency shelter program are being rushed into place, without any public process or required notice to the Legislature,” a release from the organization says. “When the Legislature funded the program, it specifically required the State agency in charge (Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities) to give the Legislature 90 days notice of any changes—time for the Legislature to evaluate and potentially prevent the changes.”

The complaint was filed against the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities and Secretary Ed Augustus.

“The Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities is reviewing the filing and will be offering no further comment at this time,” a spokesperson said Friday night.

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