We've created the Housing Justice Alliance to ensure fairness for low-income people who face housing instability. Specifically, Legal Aid - serving Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties - has a focus in Northeast Ohio to provide legal representation for tenants facing evictions.
“You have the right to an attorney” — everyone is familiar with the Miranda rights, thanks to television crime shows. Our constitution ensures access to no-cost legal counsel when someone is accused of a serious crime and cannot afford an attorney. Yet many do not realize there is no such constitutional right to legal counsel in housing cases — even if the cases lead to homelessness.
The Housing Justice Alliance grew from an initial grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland's Innovation Mission.
Legal Aid’s Housing Justice Alliance tips the scales for those who cannot afford a lawyer when their homes are at risk. With free, high-quality legal representation, Northeast Ohio families living in poverty and facing eviction can secure safe, affordable and stable housing.
Thousands Evicted without Legal Representation
Housing is a basic human need and the starting point for economic opportunity. A safe, stable home serves as a foundation for healthy families and is the nexus of thriving communities. Yet, too many families living in poverty are being evicted. For instance, in Cuyahoga County - there are an estimated 20,000 evictions annually. An eviction can be devastating for a family. Research shows that unstable housing circumstances such as homelessness, multiple moves, and rent strain are associated with adverse health outcomes for caregivers and young children. These adverse health outcomes include maternal depression, increased child lifetime hospitalizations, poor child overall health, and poor caregiver health.
Furthermore, a recent study showed workers were 11-22% more likely to lose their job if they were recently evicted or otherwise forced from their home. For many, eviction spurs a spiral into deeper poverty, creating lasting challenges for every member of the evicted family.
Legal Aid Stops Issues from Escalating into a more Expensive Community Problems
Founded in 1905, Legal Aid is the only nonprofit specifically addressing the civil legal needs of Northeast Ohio’s poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. Our 50 staff attorneys and 35 support staff members provide high-quality civil legal services where and when people need it most. With more than a century of expertise in poverty law and housing advocacy, Legal Aid is poised to halt the cascade of consequences that inevitably flows from eviction.
Studies show that tenants who receive full legal representation in eviction cases are more likely to stay in their homes and save on rent or fees. When tenants have full legal representation in an eviction case, they can participate meaningfully in the eviction proceedings and achieve better outcomes.
Proven Outcomes, Lasting Impact
We know our approach works from our clients' own stories: “Sarah” moved into an apartment close to her work and children’s school, but soon noticed several problems. The kitchen sink pipes leaked, the front door did not lock, and roaches and mice had moved in before them. Sarah contacted her landlord, who promised to make repairs, but never did. When her calls and complaints went unanswered, the young mother called the public housing authority. In retaliation, her landlord hired an attorney and sent an eviction notice. But Sarah had an attorney by her side, too. Legal Aid helped her keep her housing assistance, receive $1,615 in back pay for rent plus security deposit, and move her family to another apartment nearby.
A Local Injustice with a Scalable Solution
In the summer of 2017, New York City became the first U.S. city to pass historic “right to counsel” legislation, guaranteeing tenants under 200% of poverty guidelines facing eviction the right to have legal representation. As a result, New York City is expected to gain a net savings of $320 million annually. And, in the first year since implementation, 84% of households represented by lawyers in court were able to avoid displacement.
A right to counsel in eviction cases can help many people overcome barriers to employment and economic opportunity. It may not guarantee that every eviction will be avoided, because many evictions are lawful. However, it could ensure that a significant number of low-income people who should not be evicted are not, and that those who need to move can do so with a soft landing.