Posted March 28, 20219:27 am
At Legal Aid and United Way, we are pausing only a moment to reflect — at the end of a harsh winter — on our incredible success at keeping people in safe, stable homes during the pandemic. Just a month ago, we presented to city of Cleveland leaders our first report on the initial six months of right to counsel (RTC) in Cleveland Housing Court.
Highlights of that report include our success in ensuring tenants were not displaced and in accessing rent relief. In 93% of cases that concluded in 2020, the Legal Aid attorney was able to prevent eviction or an involuntary move. Additionally, thanks to tenants having legal help, nearly $4 million of rent relief has been distributed within Cleveland, preserving income of landlords.
Despite the positive current outlook: a successful launch, proving our hypothesis that lawyers make the difference, keeping people housed — there is much work to still be done. We face a looming crisis.
Access to quality legal representation can prevent the negative impacts of evictions for individuals, families and communities. Current tenant protections will not last in perpetuity. We will see a spike in evictions in later 2021. As of February, more than 13,800 Cuyahoga County residents have applied for rental assistance since the pandemic began, and those residents lost an aggregated $203 million in annual income.
Without additional resources focused on legal representation not just in Cleveland Housing Court, but throughout our region, the ripple effects of these evictions will hold our region back for decades.
The city of Cleveland's initial annual $300,000 support of RTC is leveraged with private philanthropy and other funds 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 designed this way: Fundraising is crucial for initial success, and long-term government support is contemplated for growth and sustainability once further evaluation proves positive results for the community. The initial six-month data from our recent report begins to shed light on the importance of long-term government investment to stabilize housing and neighborhoods.
The United Way and Legal Aid teams stand ready to collaborate with public officials and business leaders to build on what we have accomplished. Now is the time to scale up and create further impact to secure safe, stable housing in our community. In paraphrasing Frost's poem, the most famous line is repeated: "But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep." We have unfinished business, promises to keep — and miles to go before we sleep.