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Celine Janelle, Staff Attorney

Delicious smells wafting from the oven. The hustle bustle of cooking in the kitchen. Family and friends gathered around the table. The warmth of being inside on a cold winter night. These are images we commonly evoke during the holiday season, no matter what our religious tradition. And interestingly, many of these images are tied to our living space.

This season, I reflect on how some of Legal Aid’s housing clients are celebrating the holidays – and how unresolved landlord-tenant matters can throw a wrench into their plans.

Take for example Mr. Meza (all names have been changed). After being separated from his mother for 20 years, he’s finally going to get to see her for the holidays. She’s coming from overseas so she’ll need a place to stay. Mr. Meza desperately wants to host his mom in his apartment, but the bedbug situation is so bad that it just won’t be possible. He feels ashamed that he can’t provide his mother with clean and comfortable accommodations.

Mrs. Wright loves to bake, especially around the holidays. But lately, her oven has been acting up. To bake something all the way through, Ms. Wright has to get on her hands and knees at least five or six times to re-light the pilot with a match. She asked her landlord to fix the problem, but he hasn’t taken any action. Given this and other housing conditions in her apartment, Ms. Wright has accepted that she won’t be spending the holidays in her own home.

Ms. Lamont is crestfallen that she doesn’t have any money to buy her son Christmas gifts. She had originally set aside the money, but then her subsidy program miscalculated her rent, and Ms. Lamont was forced to spend her reserves on an inflated rent arrearage. Ms. Lamont is currently litigating her case in court, and hopes that she can recoup her lost Christmas money before the holidays.

Ms. Chase is crossing her fingers that she doesn’t get evicted in the next few weeks. Although she promised her landlord that she and her family would move out in early December, Ms. Chase couldn’t find anywhere else to go on her fixed income. She’s hoping to get a spot in the shelter before the Marshals come to her door.

These stories speak to the daily challenges that our client population faces, made only more poignant during the holiday season when one would hope for something better. Of course, not everyone is such dire straits. And people find a way to make the best of things. But for all those facing housing hardships this holiday season, may the New Year bring you comfort, stability, and justice.

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