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Legal Aid addresses need for affordable housing on four fronts

Making safe, affordable housing available to all families has long been a pillar in Legal Aid’s strategic work. In the past several months, Legal Aid has been stepping up to address housing inequity on four major fronts.

Desmond’s Evicted sparks community housing conversations
One Community Reads is a collaboration among the City Club of Cleveland, Playhouse Square, the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging and all nine local public library systems to create a shared reading experience for the Greater Cleveland community. This year’s selection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Dr. Matthew Desmond, has transformed Northeast Ohio’s understanding of poverty and the centrality of home. It has also made people more aware of Legal Aid’s necessary role to ensure housing stability.

Carrying on Cleveland Tenants Organization’s legacy
After long-time Legal Aid partner, Cleveland Tenants Organization (CTO), suspended operations in February 2017, Legal Aid hired veteran Tenant Information Line intake specialist Valerie Holley-Staten to continue service to Northeast Ohio renters who call 216.861.5955 (Cuyahoga County) or 440.210.4533 (Ashtabula, Lake, Geauga and Lorain Counties) with questions about conditions, rent deposit and notice requirements. Legal Aid recognizes this as an important community resource: more than 350 calls were fielded in the first four weeks. Legal Aid also agreed to carry on the work of CTO’s eviction diversion program to help tenants fight improper evictions.

Fighting for renters’ right to counsel
“You have the right to speak to an attorney... If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense,” reads the standard warning of the Miranda Rights to those accused of a crime. But to those facing unlawful eviction, there is no such provision. Hazel Remesch thinks this should change. The Legal Aid supervising attorney was selected as a Sisters of Charity Innovation Fellow for her proposal to establish the right to free legal counsel for the 10,000-plus Cleveland tenants facing eviction each year. Remesch hopes to make Cleveland the first city in Ohio to pilot a program like successful “Right to Counsel” initiatives in New York and California, which have dramatically reduced improper evictions.

Leading the fight on childhood lead poisoning
The Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation has partnered with Legal Aid in advocating for healthy homes with a $175,000 grant over two years. Mt. Sinai funding will support Legal Aid’s direct representation, community legal education, and advocacy with the government to craft laws that will hold landlords responsible for remediating lead hazards before children suffer the irreversible damage of lead poisoning. In addition to helping Legal Aid provide direct representation to low-income renters in landlord-tenant cases, the grant supports Legal Aid’s work to illuminate the disparate impact of household lead hazards on minority families.

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