CLEVELAND — The United Way of Greater Cleveland reports the city dealt with 9,000 evictions in 2019, and unfortunately, that number is expected to grow significantly over the next year with the COVID-19 pandemic a major cause for the increase.
In response, the City of Cleveland, United Way, and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland launched Right to Counsel Cleveland on July 1, a program that will provide free legal representation to qualifying families facing eviction in housing court.
Augie Napoli, CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, said Right to Counsel will help to provide better housing stability for families, at a time when the agencies 211 Helplink system took in more than 1200 calls for housing assistance issues just last week.
“Right to Counsel Cleveland aims to level the playing field for families facing eviction,” said Napoli.
Napoli said he expects eviction filings to triple over the next year.
“It's had a devastating impact on academic, health and economic outcomes, and can send families spiraling deeper and deeper into poverty,” Napoli said.
"Given the current local and national crisis and economic downturn caused by COVID-19, we expect a dramatic rise in eviction rates.”
Colleen Cotter, Executive Director with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said Cleveland families can sign-up for free legal representation if they meet a few basic criteria.
“If folks are living at or below the poverty line and they have kids in the household they qualify," Cotter said.
“This is historic, we are the fourth city in the county to establish a right to counsel for tenants.”
“Ensuring that they have a voice in the justice system, that they have access to justice, that they have the ability to appear in court.”
“To make sure folks can stay on their feet, stay in their house, keep their job, keep their kids in school, and create stronger neighborhoods."
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the United Way of Greater Cleveland has launched a website that allows residents to apply for Right to Counsel assistance and contains information and links to a dozen organizations that can help with housing issues.