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In the first 6 months of Cleveland Right to Counsel, 93% of evictions prevented.


Posted February 2, 2021
12:00 pm


In the first 6 months of Cleveland’s Right to Counsel (RTC), 93% of cases represented in Cleveland Housing Court by a Legal Aid attorney, that were seeking to avoid eviction or an involuntary move, avoided displacement.

Additionally, thanks to tenants having legal help, more than $3.8 million of rent relief has been distributed within Cleveland, preserving income of landlords.

Pre-COVID-19, there were about 9,000 evictions filed annually in Cleveland Housing Court. The majority of these evictions involved Black female-headed households with minor children. In this COVID-19 era, the households facing eviction have similar demographics. A significant increase in eviction filings is anticipated when rent assistance depletes and various tenant protections expire.

Read more in this report prepared by United Way and Legal Aid for the City of Cleveland, marking the initial 6 months of Cleveland's Right to Counsel in Housing Court:

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In 2019, Cleveland City Council passed Cleveland’s Right to Counsel ordinance with a recognition that “a lack of legal counsel for low-income tenants with minor children during eviction cases is a violation of a basic human right.”  Through Cleveland Codified Ordinance 375.12, the city became the first in the Midwest to provide such a right.

Launched on July 1, 2020, Right to Counsel Cleveland provides a right to free legal representation pursuant to the ordinance. This right is delivered to eligible households through a partnership between United Way and Legal Aid.

United Way and Legal Aid have developed a program model that provides comprehensive access to high-quality legal representation and other supportive services.  Tenants eligible for Right to Counsel can access Legal Aid’s Right to Counsel services through:

  • Online and phone intake (in person intake has been suspended temporarily due to COVID-19),
  • The program website, www.FreeEvictionHelp.org,
  • Referrals from United Way’s 211 HelpLink or other community partners, or
  • The Housing Court prior to or during the eviction hearing.

In this COVID-19 era, RTC together with rental assistance and various new tenant protections have “flattened the curve” – on a mounting eviction crisis.  With the prospect of the expiration of various tenant protections and the spend-down of rental assistance, 2021 could be the year of an eviction spike. As of December 2020, more than 11,000 Cuyahoga County
residents have applied for rental assistance, and those residents lost an aggregated $148 million in annual income.

Without additional resources focused on legal representation in Cleveland Housing Court (for more than just those covered by the current ordinance), the ripple effects of these evictions will hold Cleveland back for decades.

The City of Cleveland’s initial annual $300,000 support of RTC is leveraged with private philanthropy to complete a $2.4 million annual program budget. This Cleveland model is unique: no other city in the United States that has legislated a housing right to counsel is set-up this way: fundraising is crucial for initial success, and long-term government support is contemplated for sustainability once evaluation proves positive results for the community.

The initial 6-month RTC data begins to shed light on the importance of long-term government investment to stabilize housing and neighborhoods. In this report, we are proud to detail the progress made to bridge the justice gap for tenants facing displacement from their homes and neighborhoods.

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