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City of Cleveland creates right to counsel in Cleveland Housing Court

Posted October 1, 2019
2:58 pm

With Mayor Jackson’s signature today, Cleveland created a right to counsel for low-income tenants with children.

The City of Cleveland found that the lack of legal counsel for low income tenants with children during eviction cases is a violation of a basic human right.  The new legislation ensures access to legal services for certain low-income tenants who face housing instability.

The United Way of Greater Cleveland will work with Cleveland City Council to lead the program, and United Way will contract with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to provide the legal services.  Legal Aid will provide access to legal representation by its experienced staff, pro bono attorneys, and other subcontracted entities.

This effort grew from Legal Aid’s Housing Justice Alliance – a group Legal Aid created in Northeast Ohio to promote legal representation for tenants facing evictions. After initial funding and support from the Sisters of Charity Foundation to explore the idea, the Housing Justice Alliance formed an advisory committee.  Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Anthony Brancatelli served as members on this advisory committee. Under their leadership, the Alliance's ideas evolved and informed today’s groundbreaking right to counsel legislation.

Pursuant to this legislation, effective June 30, 2020, legal counsel shall be provided to tenants at and below 100% of the federal poverty guidelines who have at least one child in the household.

This Cleveland-specific legislative effort dovetails with United Way’s new Impact Institute: a Housing Stability Solution Center.  “United Way is determined to solve the life-long consequences that unsafe and unstable housing have on families and children, including their academic, health and quality of life outcomes.  Legal Aid is proud to be a close partner with United Way and we look forward to working with them to make this City’s new legal protection a reality for low-income families,” said Colleen Cotter, executive director of Legal Aid.

With this effort, Cleveland is the first city in the Midwest and the fourth in the United States to enact such protections for low-income tenants.

This legislation increases the number of Cleveland residents who can access Legal Aid services.  Despite this, there is no right to counsel in other civil cases beyond this new Cleveland protection; thus, Legal Aid will continue to seek and engage community partners and philanthropic support to serve residents of Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which translates to an annual household (4 people) income of about $50,000/year.

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