Posted April 8, 20203:27 pm
United Way of Greater Cleveland is committing $3 million over three years to promote housing stability and accelerate Right to Counsel-Cleveland (RTC-C), a program announced last fall that will provide eligible families with free legal representation in housing court, according to a news release.
Though these are commitments the organization has been prioritizing regardless, the COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects highlight the need for these services, said Augie Napoli, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Data available before the COVID-19 outbreak indicate that roughly 9,000 evictions are filed in the city of Cleveland annually, 60% of which were filed against households with children, according to the release. Although new data is not yet available since the pandemic, the number of individuals and families at risk of eviction is expected to "dramatically increase," as a result of the crisis, the release notes.
"Cleveland now has a crisis upon a crisis within our community," Napoli said in a prepared statement. "Given our city already had some of the worst poverty rates in the nation for children, working adults and seniors before the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring Right to Counsel-Cleveland moves forward as planned is more important than ever. United Way of Greater Cleveland is proud to commit $3 million over the next three years to the program as part of our work within the Impact Institute, a cornerstone of our business transformation."
RTC-C will provide Cleveland families with children who are facing eviction and living at or below the poverty line the right to free legal representation in Cleveland Housing Court beginning on July 1. Cleveland City Council last fall passed legislation establishing free legal counsel as a right for families meeting the criteria. Since the legislation passed, United Way of Greater Cleveland and Legal Aid have prepared to launch the program with services beginning this summer.
RTC-C will also aid families with other needed resources (like food, utilities and rental assistance) through CHN Housing Partner's Family Stability Initiative and through United Way of Greater Cleveland's 2-1-1 HelpLink, a free and confidential 24/7 service.
The program is based on a model that has been proven to support families and save millions of dollars in U.S. cities such as New York City, which experienced an 84% reduction in evictions for tenants with legal representation and an estimated cost savings of $320 million per year by preventing issues like family homelessness, according to the release.
The program is estimated to cost about $7 million over its first three years of operation. Napoli said the program continues to fundraise the remaining amount. United Way's contribution of $3 million is made possible through principal gifts directed to the Impact Institute's Housing Stability Solution Center, according to the release. Half of this commitment from United Way will be designated to Legal Aid to support the initiative, which will provide representation to an estimated 3,000 eligible cases annually.
Funds will also support evaluating the program, implementing a robust community education and awareness campaign and providing wraparound services for clients, according to the release
"We are eager to launch right to counsel in Cleveland Housing Court in 2020 with the City of Cleveland and United Way of Greater Cleveland," said Colleen Cotter, Legal Aid executive director, in a prepared statement. "We are proud to be the first city in the United States to launch right to counsel with this unique public-private partnership."
United Way of Greater Cleveland hired Julie Wisneski as program manager for RTC-C, working closely with the lead organizations to ensure the program's success, according to the release.