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Building on success of ‘Right to Counsel’ in evictions by Sharon Sobol Jordan and Colleen Cotter

Posted March 10, 2023
1:24 pm

By Guest Columnist,

CLEVELAND -- Nearly 84 years ago, “The Wizard of Oz” movie premiered during the Great Depression. The famous line, “There’s no place like home,” resonated deeply with audiences facing job loss and housing insecurity. Today, these issues have renewed prominence as families work to recoup the losses inflicted by the pandemic, the accompanying economic slowdown, and inflation. At the heart of this for many has been the effort to maintain stable housing – and sadly, not all of us can click our ruby heels together like Dorothy.

In 2019, Cleveland legislated a Right to Counsel for families with low incomes facing eviction. With a lawyer to represent them, these families can exercise their rights as tenants to protect their home. United Way and Legal Aid partnered to bring this right to reality in 2020, with funding support from the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and a long list of philanthropic community leaders. Cleveland was only the fourth city in the United States to create such a right, and we continue to be a national leader in the movement to make housing a human right.

Families require housing stability to succeed and to have a shot at building generational wealth. When eviction looms, that stress has downstream effects on the family and community. For instance, a study by Boston Medical Center demonstrated that caregivers for young children in unstable low-income housing are two times more likely than those in stable housing to be in fair or poor health, and almost three times more likely to report symptoms of depression.

When Right to Counsel in Cleveland began, we knew our public-private partnership would help many people overcome barriers to employment and economic opportunity. As COVID-19 hit, that work became even more urgent. The significance of representation in eviction cases cannot be overstated: Tenants who receive legal help in eviction cases are more likely to stay in their homes.

Now, our strategy has been validated: Last month, the firm Stout Risius Ross released an independent evaluation of Right to Counsel in Cleveland, providing proof that preventing eviction contributes to a healthy community. The study highlights that, because of the Right to Counsel, we are identifying and responding to poor housing conditions; responding to an eviction crisis that disproportionately impacts Black female heads of household; leveraging critical community interventions; and increasing access to justice.

Perhaps most notable is the creation of community benefit - an estimated $14 million of savings were realized by Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

This right is necessary – along with other tenant protections – for housing stability. As the recent evaluation proves, Legal Aid was overwhelmingly successful in achieving residents’ goals, including preventing eviction judgments, securing time to move, and mitigating damages. Also last year, more Cleveland residents who were eligible asserted their Right to Counsel: Legal Aid represented 79% of all eligible Cleveland households facing eviction.

This effort began with a strategic, focused, and robust public-private partnership, and together we have built a solution that works. Local leaders created a sturdy foundation and actionable framework for this endeavor; we are excited to work together to build upon this foundation. This means continuing to work with all our partners -- particularly the government leaders that boldly created this legal right on behalf of all Clevelanders -- to develop a sustainability plan that fully funds this right well into the future. We will continue to examine the benefits that would come with the expansion of this right to more Cleveland residents and to nearby suburbs. Truly, there is no place like home.

Sharon Sobol Jordan is the president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland and Colleen Cotter is the executive director of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Published: - Building on success of ‘Right to Counsel’ in evictions: Sharon Sobol Jordan and Colleen Cotter 

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