Legal Aid partners with local organizations and resident groups to promote business growth, home ownership
by Tonya Sams
(Plain Press, November 2021) As Managing Attorney for Community Engagement at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Anne Sweeney knows how important it is for neighborhood residents’ voices to be heard.
“It’s important to build local power,” she says.
Legal Aid’s Community Engagement team represents a wide variety of groups including tenant associations, block clubs, non-profits, and citizens who want to solve problems. To qualify for representation, these groups must be comprised of people with low incomes or primarily serve people with low incomes.
The Community Engagement team is currently working on a number of outreach initiatives, including teaming up with Cleveland Owns, an incubator for co-ops that are just starting out.
“Cleveland Owns sends co-ops our way for further development and help with legal documents,” said Anne. “We work with faith organizations and non-profits on issues like commercial leases, debt, grants, money related problems, hiring, contracts for employees and interns, and help operating a nonprofit.”
The Community Engagement team is also working on a collaborative effort with Legal Aid’s Economic Justice Department and Neighborhood Connections. Neighborhood Connections is an organization that promotes community building. It recently launched a pilot project which gives out micro loans as seed money to local businesses to get them up and running. The first organization to benefit from this program was a church in Euclid. Two other businesses engaged in the program involve arts and music.
Not only are these businesses supported financially, but they also gain social capital. Legal Aid and Neighborhood Connections offer mentorship and guidance to each business through the life of the loan. These businesses can ask Legal Aid for assistance with legal documents and growth plans.
The Community Engagement team is looking to become more involved with issues regarding housing. In Lorain County, Legal Aid works with El Centro, an organization that provides health and social advocacy for monolingual Latinos, to help create affordable housing for non-traditional borrowers that have a stable income but cannot get a traditional loan. This work, which involves collaborating with community land trusts in Oberlin, mirrors a homesteading model in Cincinnati through which people enter a short-term lease to become homeowners.
Does your community group need help with establishing businesses, tenant associations, or other initiatives to improve local neighborhoods? Legal Aid may be able to help. To learn more, go to http://www.lasclev.org. You can also apply for assistance online 24/7 or call 216-687-1900 during normal business hours.
Editor’s Note: The author, Tonya Sams, is a Development and Communications Assistant at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
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