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from Cleveland program to provide lawyers to poor renters facing eviction yielded up to $4.7M in benefits, report says

Posted February 2, 2022
10:21 am

By Eric Heisig,

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A report put out by organizations running a Cleveland program to provide attorneys for some of Cleveland’s poorest families facing eviction said the lawyers’ efforts yielded an estimated $4.3 million to $4.7 million in benefits last year.

The report released this week aimed to show that the city’s Right to Counsel program, which began in July 2020, was working even with its limitations. As of now, the program offers attorneys for eviction cases to renters with at least one child that live at 100% or below the federal poverty line, which for a family of three is $23,030.

Paying to represent those renters, as well as for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the United Way of Greater Cleveland to run it, cost about $2.7 million last year, according to officials from the nonprofits.

(You can read the full report here or at the bottom of this story.)

The report, prepared by the Stout Risius Ross banking and advisory firm of Chicago, said the estimated economic benefits came through a combination of savings in social services programs, money that continued to come into Cleveland schools because of children not being displaced, and other benefits.

That $4.7 million number is likely “significantly understated,” though, the report said. It does not account for all social services savings and benefits from renters being able to keep their jobs, for example. Nor does it quantify how much money local governments save by families being sheltered more financially stable.

The 193-page report was meant to show what the organizations accomplished in the program in 2021. It says Legal Aid provided lawyers to 860 families last year, though 1,440 in the city were eligible. That meant that about 18% of renters who had pending eviction cases against them in Cleveland Housing Court last year were represented, compared to about 2% before the program started.

According to the report, 650 renters wanted to prevent an eviction on their record or being forced to move out, and attorneys were able to prevent that 93% of the time. The lawyers also helped people obtain rental assistance and strike deals with landlords.

It also said the number of Black and female renters facing eviction far outpaced the demographics of of the city’s population.

But the estimated financial benefit was another way to look at the numbers, The report, with that number, sought to show that the program requires money to run it but could save even more.

And the nonprofits want to make sure the programs continue and potentially expand.

During a presentation in front of City Council’s finance committee on Monday, officials from United Way and Legal Aid stressed to members that they were looking for more money to pay for the program. Legal Aid Executive Director Colleen Cotter said the city’s contribution last year also included $700,000 from federal coronavirus legislation and a Community Development Block Grant. The rest came from philanthropic organizations.

Cotter said the number of eviction cases filed in Cleveland was lower in 2021 for several factors, including a federal moratorium, rental assistance and the fact that Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority did not seek evictions for anyone who could not pay their rent.

CMHA Chief of Staff Jeffrey Wade said in an interview Wednesday that the housing agency has not evicted anyone for that reason since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, instead concentrating efforts on having tenants apply for rental assistance.

Legal Aid and United Way’s concerns are that philanthropic money will dry up as those organizations move on to new projects. That money would just be used to keep the program afloat with its current parameters, they said, one day before Mayor Justin Bibb released his budget estimate for 2022. Cotter estimated that the program will cost $3.2 million in 2022, because attorneys will likely take on more eviction cases.

“We need to start talking about the pathway towards greater financial viability for this,” United Way President and CEO Augie Napoli said at the meeting. “We can’t count on philanthropy forever with this because it passes.”

However, several councilmembers talked about trying to expand the program to help more residents – including those without children.

Cotter said the nonprofits were up to the task.

“If Council made a decision to expand, Legal Aid would be prepared to implement,” she said.


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