CLEVELAND, Ohio – Hundreds of people avoided evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks in part to a Cleveland program that provides lawyers with pending lawsuits to eligible tenants, according to the organizations running the program.
The report, released this week by the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the United Way of Greater Cleveland, touts what they see as achievements in the first six months of the program, which began July 1. For them, the program was part of the reason Cleveland didn’t see as many evictions as feared when the pandemic broke out in full in March 2020.
But it also says that the program, funded by the city budget, grants and donations from the philanthropic community, still misses large swathes of the population who continue to live at risk of losing their homes.
“Now that we know it works in COVID, I can’t wait to see how things work out and affect this community,” said Andrew Way, director of basic needs at United Way, said Katusin.
The Cleveland City Council launched the program in 2019 and offers a free attorney to those in need of eviction if they are at or below the federal poverty line – $ 21,720 per year for a family up to three years old – and at least has a child with you. According to the report, Legal Aid hired more lawyers and hired others to run the program.
According to the report, attorneys assisted tenants through the program in 323 Cleveland Housing Court cases between July 1 and December 31. That’s 1,600 who asked about the legal advice program.
Of these, Legal Aid said it helped 63 customers who wanted to avoid an eviction on their file or forced move out of a home in order to achieve this. According to the report, that’s 93% of customers who wanted this result. Another 33 customers who wanted to move 30 days or more also received it, according to the report.
The program, which began before the coronavirus pandemic, resulted in millions of people in Cleveland and the rest of the country losing their jobs, forcing the courts and other organizations to work hands-on rather than face-to-face.
New responsibilities for lawyers have also been created. The federal government imposed an eviction moratorium on people unable to pay rent due to the pandemic and made money available to provide rental support for tenants who were struggling to pay their landlords. CHN Housing Partners and Eden Inc. run these programs in Cuyahoga County. According to the report, more than 11,000 people in the county claimed to have lost a total of $ 148 million in income in December.
The report said attorneys helped Cleveland clients file affidavits confirming eligibility for the moratorium and helped secure more than $ 3.8 million in rental assistance.
All of these programs have helped reduce the number of people affected by the eviction. The Housing Court typically hears about 9,000 eviction cases a year – mostly against black people in the black-majority Cleveland – but the report estimates 2,800 cases were brought to the court between June 1 and December 31.
“In this COVID-19 era (the legal advice program), rental support and various new tenant protection measures have” flattened “the curve – due to an increasing eviction crisis,” the report said.
Housing Court Judge W. Moná Scott said she was surprised at the number of people the report said the program had helped. While information about the program is in the envelope given to tenants pending eviction with a subpoena, she said the number of tenants attending hearings will remain small.
She said she spoke with Legal Aid staff about concerns about the volunteers who go door-to-door to reach people through the program and said participation by people of color might help.
“If you send out white adults and the majority of them are African American, the chances of responding are slim,” she said.
Despite the numbers, the report said the program only covers 38% of those affected by the eviction and that city lawmakers should consider expanding the program. Currently, Clevelanders, who make up 200% of federal poverty, and families with adult children who are still at home because of a disability or other reason do not qualify for a free placement attorney.
That would cost more money, however. The budget, which was created with the current requirements and calculated before the pandemic, is that Legal Aid and United Way will need an estimated $ 505,000 for the current year. The city has allocated $ 300,000 annually to a program that is estimated to cost $ 2.4 million annually.
These numbers can change due to other factors, such as: B. whether the federal legislature provides more money for rent support or whether the eviction moratorium, which expires on March 31, is extended. If such protection expires, the city could experience a “tsunami” of new evictions, the report said.
“Because of COVID, there are many other people we represent at Legal Aid who are not covered by this legislation,” said Melanie Shakarian, director of development and communications at Legal Aid. “It’s good that the city took this first step, but it’s limited.”
Scott also said the city may need to try to expand the program.
City Council President Kevin Kelley said he was ready to work with Legal Aid and United Way on future budgetary issues and potentially expand the program.
“We’ll find a solution,” said Kelley. “I don’t know what the city will look like, but we are open to a solution. This is an important job that we are doing. “