Coalition of community groups rally to “Stop Evictions Now!”
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2021) A coalition of groups of community activists from throughout Northeast Ohio converged on Public Square on October 20th for a “Stop Evictions Now!” rally as part of a coordinated national effort to speed the distribution of already allocated federal dollars designed to help prevent evictions. The local coalition also put forth a Cleveland legislative agenda they hope to get Cleveland’s next mayor, whoever that may be, to agree to submit to City Council for passage on day one of their new administration.
While federal funds to house the homeless individuals in local hotels and motels have been depleted, emergency funds to prevent eviction remain, and coalition members at the rally urged that they be distributed as soon as possible to prevent more evictions. Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) Executive Director Kris Knestrick said with so many federal dollars available to provide rental assistance to prevent eviction, there is no reason people should be being evicted from their homes. Yet evictions are happening, he said.
As reported in an article in the September issue of the Plain Press, titled Advocates for free eviction help urge increased commitment by the City of Cleveland to fully funding the program, two of the zip codes with the highest eviction rates are zip codes 44102 and 44109 – areas served by the Plain Press. The article states “… from June 30, 2020 to July 1 of 2021 there were 954 evictions filed in zip code 44102, and 732 evictions filed in zip code 44109.”
Addressing the eviction crisis, Knestrick said evictions are the number one cause of homelessness in Cleveland. He said Ohio initially started out well in distributing federal anti-eviction funds, but now has fallen behind nearby states in its rate of distributing funds. Knestrick urged those present to lobby their state legislature and the state administration to speed up the distribution of rental assistance dollars to prevent more evictions.
Milo Korman of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus’s Cleveland Housing Organizing Project (CHOP) said his group gets lists of upcoming evictions from Cleveland Housing Court and goes and knock-on doors to inform residents of the availability of the Right to Counsel program for income qualified tenants.
Loh, a member of NEOCH and an organizer of the conference, thanked Legal Aid for pushing to have the Right to Counsel legislation passed in Cleveland. She urged families facing eviction to take advantage of their right to have Counsel represent them in Housing Court.
Molly Martin, Director of Strategic Initiatives at NEOCH, she said two pieces of legislation that will help prevent evictions and provide residents with affordable housing access are ready to go. In fact, she said other municipalities in Cuyahoga County already have passed such legislation. She urged those present to sign a petition on the NEOCH website to urge the two mayoral candidates, Justin Bibb and Kevin Kelley, to commit to commit to send to Cleveland City Council for immediate passage on day one of the next mayoral administration – ready to be introduced Pay to Stay Legislation and Income Protection Legislation. The website also asks the candidates to commit to supporting a renters’ bill of rights.
Noting the need for source of income protection, Martin cited the difficulty of Section 8 recipients in getting landlords to accept their vouchers. She said, currently Section 8 recipients experience rejection of their means of rental payment by 19 out of 20 landlords when seeking new housing.
When introducing the next speaker, event organizer Loh of NEOCH, noted a difficulty that tenants with housing vouchers experience if their utilities are shut off. She said that if you have no utilities, your housing voucher is invalid.
The speaker, Attorney Joseph Meissner, stressed the importance of advocating for utility assistance programs. He also urged advocacy to get the State of Ohio to distribute federal rental assistance dollars and not to let them go unused and be required to be returned to the federal government. He led the crowd in a chant “Use it, don’t lose it.”
Community activist Yvonka Hall spoke of people in crisis who need assistance to prevent homelessness. She said individuals who are victims of domestic violence, or individuals suffering from a mental illness, are more likely to become homeless when experiencing these challenging life circumstances. Hall urged advocacy to get the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to step up prevent evictions from compounding suffering during such trying events in peoples’ lives.
Members of the coalition which brought the speakers and about sixty community activists to the public square rally included: Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, Black Spring Cleveland, Cleveland Owns, Concerned Citizens Organized Against Lead, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, End Poverty Now!, Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network, Homeless Congress, InterReligious Task Force on Central America, Neighbor Up, Northern Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equality, Ohio Poor People’s Campaign, Organize Ohio, Peace Action Cleveland, Serve the People – Cleveland, Sunrise Movement Cleveland, and Utilities for All.
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