Council approves “Right to Counsel Legislation” for tenants with children facing eviction

Council approves “Right to Counsel Legislation” for tenants with children facing eviction

(Plain Press, November 2019)        Cleveland City Council, at its September 30th meeting, unanimously approved legislation to provide access to free legal representation to low-income tenants with children who are facing evictions.

The legislation notes that 60 percent of the approximately 9,000 eviction cases filed each year in the city include households with children.

The ordinance reads in part: “. . . due to a lack of resources and an inability to obtain legal representation, Cleveland’s most vulnerable residents are frequently evicted by landlords represented by competent counsel.”

In sponsoring the legislation, Council President Kevin Kelley said, “Without knowing their legal rights as tenants and without knowing how to navigate the legal system, many low-income families are forced out of their homes. This leads to family turmoil and disruption of the children’s education.”

Supporters hope the effort will help mitigate housing instability and homelessness.

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, which will come from their own organization as well as other attorneys.

This Cleveland-specific legislative effort dovetails with United Way’s new Impact Institute’s Housing Stability Solution Center. The Impact Institute is a think tank with an action plan that gathers the brightest minds throughout private and public sectors to create solutions addressing the root causes of poverty.

A study by Case Western Reserve University shows that an average of just $1,200 in rental support would have prevented a family’s eviction, a fraction of the cost of a family’s stay in an emergency shelter.

The initiative is a proven model that has saved millions of dollars in U.S. cities, including New York City.

Cleveland’s legislation, known as “The Right to Counsel,” is backed by a number of public and private entities outside of United Way and Legal Aid, including the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s Solo Practice Incubator.

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

The Right to Counsel program begins July 2020. Tenants can always seek more information by contacting United Way’s 2-1-1 HelpLink, a free and confidential 24-hour lifeline with referral specialists or the Legal Aid’s tenant hotline at 216-861-5955.

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