AKRON, Ohio — Four months after an Eviction Summit— which was attended by hundreds— was held in Akron, a new report is listing several suggestions to prevent evictions.
According to organizers of the event held at the John S. Knight Center, community members identified more than 350 specific ways to lower Akron's eviction rates. Those were collated into thematic buckets.
Some of the ideas included a landlord-tenant education campaign, a rental assistance fund and a housing court in Akron.
But the solution that seems to be gaining the most traction is a Right to Counsel Program, which would give some tenants facing eviction the opportunity to be represented by an attorney for free throughout their eviction proceedings.
"Right to Counsel is really an attempt to level the playing field and give people the chance to assert their legal rights in court," said Steven McGarrity, the executive director of Community Legal Aid. "It's not a question of whether or not we'll take your case. We're going to take your case."
McGarrity feels a program to help tenants at no cost is crucial in a city that has been labeled "Ohio's Eviction Capital" for having the highest eviction rate per capita in the state and the 24th highest in the country, according to The Eviction Lab.
According to Community Legal Aid, there have been nearly 800 filings of evictions in Akron over the last three months, which would potentially equate to about 3,200 a year. That number would be getting close to the 3,400 evictions Akron experienced pre-pandemic.
"Right now in Akron, it's a bit of a crisis for the rental market, with rising rents, it's very hard for low-income people to find housing," McGarrity said.
Cleveland already has a Right to Counsel program which was established in 2020.
According to Lauren Hamilton, senior attorney with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the program has handled more than 1,700 cases and evictions were prevented in 93% of those.
Cleveland's program is funded through a combination of city, federal and private funds.
McGarrity said Akron is considering using American Rescue Plan dollars, but the idea— estimated to cost more than $2 million— is still in the early phases.
Latanya Tyes, a 46-year-old single mother, attended the Eviction Summit last April. She lives in Akron now, but in 2018, she was evicted from a home in Maple Heights.
Tyes said the eviction happened after she got sick, became hospitalized and fell behind on rent. When she left the hospital, she found her house locked up and wasn't able to get back inside.
She believes a Right to Counsel program is needed in Akron.
"Getting help with people with evictions is very important because everybody has different reasons why they're being evicted," Tyes said.