AKRON, Ohio — Community Legal Aid is offering a new program that will provide legal help to renters who are facing or fearful of an eviction.
The project is getting started as local courts prepare for a possible surge in new eviction cases - as early as August - and more families face financial stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tenant Assistance Project, or TAP, will offer a dedicated hotline number (330-983-2528) for tenants to call to get advice from an attorney.
There will also be a virtual clinic, by Zoom, every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Attendees can call or join from their computer to get general information on the eviction process, and ask questions to an attorney. The first video chat will be June 30 during the soft launch of the program.
In addition, Legal Aid is providing an online toolkit that walks renters through the eviction process, helps prepare them for court, and provides template documents they'll need.
John Petit, managing attorney for Legal aid, said when a tenant receives a summons for an eviction hearing, he or she will also receive a flyer with the hotline number and Legal Aid's website.
"The idea is don't make people, tenants especially, go through the process alone. Give them the best shot to get rental assistance," Petit said.
Among the organizations offering rent assistance are Job and Family Services, Summit County Continuum of Care, United Way of Summit County, and religious charities.
Joe Scalise, the director of housing services at United Way of Summit County, said tenants who need help should call 211 for eligibility screenings.
"We've tried to make sure that we're not letting people fall further behind and face eviction as eviction activity starts back up," Scalise said.
In Akron Municipal Court, there has been a stay on new eviction cases during the pandemic, but hearings will resume July 6, mostly by Zoom. However, if defendants do not have internet access, their cases will be held in person.
"We feel there's really going to be an avalanche of eviction cases and so we want to be ahead of the curve," Petit said.
Data analyzed by Eviction Lab revealed that Akron has the highest eviction rate, per capita, in Ohio. Akron ranked 24th highest in the country.
"We need to take action against this because quite frankly there are certain populations that are disproportionately affected this-- minorities and African American head of household families with children," Scalise said. "This (TAP) enables us to help individuals, two-paired families, anybody that's really suffered that economic setback."
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