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from Crain’s Cleveland Business: Personal View: Housing crisis looms large over Cleveland

Posted December 13, 2020
10:44 pm

Written by Dr. Toby Cosgrove in Crain's Cleveland Business on 12/13/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our world and make it crystal clear just how fragile our health, social and economic prosperity are. It's undeniable that complicated, deeply rooted inequities exist in our nation as people of color suffer disproportionately from this virus and its many ripple effects. The result is a looming housing crisis upon an already existing poverty crisis within our city.

Housing instability is one ripple effect — most notably due to evictions. This is a threat our city and our nation must work quickly to solve. COVID-19 has caused thousands of Clevelanders to lose their jobs through no fault of their own. As a result of those job losses, families and individuals affected who are unable to secure work often face eviction, with Black and brown communities disproportionately impacted.

Nearly 9,000 evictions were filed in Cleveland in 2016, according to a study by Case Western Reserve University. About 80% of those households were led by women of color, and 60% had at least one child in the home. Evictions are traumatic experiences that destabilize families and their opportunities for prosperity — often for generations to come. Consider this:

The domino effects of eviction require a coordinated response now more than ever as we prepare for an eviction tsunami in our city from the economic consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to global, independent data analysis firm Stout Risius Ross, as of November 2020, there are 76,000 Cuyahoga County renters at risk for eviction, and we could see five times the number of evictions in 2021 compared to 2016. With such dramatic scale, innovation and partnership become even more essential.

In 2019, Cleveland City Council passed legislation making an attorney in eviction cases a right for low-income families renting in Cleveland. This led to the creation of Right to Counsel — Cleveland (RTC), a partnership led by United Way of Greater Cleveland with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and CHN Housing Partners. The program provides free legal representation and rental assistance to those eligible under the legislation. This work within United Way's Impact Institute identifies innovative solutions and empowers our partners to implement them.

I commend the city of Cleveland and Cleveland City Council for their important roles in this work. In 2020, not only did they declare racism a public health crisis but also allocated $11.3 million in CARES funding for rental assistance. Our partners in the public sector recognize the importance of helping our renters — and thereby our landlords — stay current with their rent.

While a single, major investment does help, it will not turn the tide of the situation alone. Others must also join this effort. According to CHN Housing Partners, Cuyahoga County residents who inquired about rental assistance have lost a combined $128 million in income this year. Rental assistance is expected to be exhausted by the holiday season, nearly the same time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium will expire. At that point, RTC will be inundated with eligible clients seeking assistance to remain in their homes. Without the support of RTC, families' risk of eviction increases, as does their risk of becoming homeless during the cold winter months.

The acute crisis we're facing does not have to become a chronic condition for thousands of Clevelanders. Nonprofits, foundations and government agencies alike are banding together and holding one another accountable as we work toward a common goal — to find solutions that improve the future for all Clevelanders. We're unraveling and rebuilding systems, policies and programs that were intentionally designed to target and exclude specific groups of people from collective prosperity.

There has never been a more critical time for action, nor has the need for additional resources and funding been greater. This is a time that requires ongoing leadership, collaboration and common agendas. We welcome the involvement and support of every business leader, legislator and community-minded citizen who wants to join us in this fight. It's a fight we can and will win — together.

Click here to read the full article in Crain's Cleveland Business. 

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