Nothing is more important to families and individuals across the commonwealth than access to stable, affordable housing.

When families face eviction, children struggle to keep up in school. Homeless individuals without a permanent address struggle to secure meaningful, lasting employment. And when many of our neighbors are confronted with housing instability, or properties are left to fall into disrepair, our communities suffer as well.

Tomorrow, Framingham will hold one of many informational sessions around the state about the expansion of the Housing Court. Until this year, Framingham and most of Middlesex County was unserved by a housing court, but a provision we sponsored and passed in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget this year has closed that gap. Thanks to this new law, two million people in 84 cities and towns in Barnstable, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Dukes, and Nantucket counties will now have access to the vital services housing courts provide.

Housing courts are designed to enforce state and local health and fire codes, protect people from becoming homeless, stabilize neighborhoods, address mortgage fraud, and handle many other complex housing-related issues. The first housing court was created in Boston in 1972. Over the years, laws were passed to establish additional housing courts in about 80 percent of the state. Before passage of this year’s budget, however, nearly one-third of all residents in Massachusetts still lacked access.

As advocates have long pointed out, the establishment of housing courts is beneficial to people, communities, and the commonwealth as a whole. Housing Court judges focus exclusively on federal, state, and local laws on housing, providing a level of expertise unavailable in district courts. Moving housing-related cases out of district courts and into housing courts means that they are able to be acted upon more quickly. Benefits include:

Access to Justice. Housing courts provide services, financial help, and programs that allow landlords and tenants to stabilize tenancies. This can prevent tenants facing eviction from becoming homeless and landlords from losing valuable rents. In addition, the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) assists mentally disabled tenants in retaining their housing, working with tenants and landlords to prevent some of our most vulnerable neighbors from losing their homes. Finally, housing courts provide "lawyer for the day" services for tenants and landlords who may otherwise not have access to representation.

Safety and Efficiency. Rather than being delayed in a larger court system, cases involving emergencies or code violations, including building and fire codes, can be dealt with quickly. This increases safety for residents. In addition, specialized housing expertise allows for fast and efficient problem-solving across an expansive range of issues and cases.

Neighborhood Stability. Housing Courts work closely with municipal officials, community organizers and housing advocates to tackle neighborhood blight.

Cost Savings. According to the 2013 Massachusetts Trial Court Strategic Plan, the Housing Court Department has the lowest cost per case across all Trial Court departments. In an era when budgets are strained, achieving cost savings is an important goal. Achieving cost savings while better serving residents is even better.

We are proud to join housing advocates in spreading the word about the expansion of the Housing Court in Massachusetts. We hope you will join us, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and MetroWest Legal Services on Monday, September 18 at the Greater Framingham Community Church at 5:30 p.m. to learn more.

Karen E. Spilka is a state senator whose 2nd Middlesex and Norfolk district includes the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Franklin, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway and Natick. Chris Walsh is a state representative whose 6th Middlesex District includes Precincts 1, 2, 4–7, 9–12 and 15 in Framingham.