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New Neighborhood Housing Court Kiosk opens at the South Branch Library

PHOTO BY BRUCE CHECEFSKY
Monday, July 18, 2022; Grand opening celebration for Neighborhood Housing Court Kiosk, South Branch Library, 3096 Scranton Road: Cleveland Housing Court Administrative Judge W. Moná Scott says the kiosk will make it easier for members of public to attend eviction hearings.

New Neighborhood Housing Court Kiosk opens at the South Branch Library

by Bruce Checefsky

Plain Press, August 2022        Cleveland Housing Court and Cleveland Public Library have teamed up to bring the court to the community. Starting this month, the new Neighborhood Housing Court Kiosk at the South Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, located at 3096 Scranton Road, is available solely for the use of Clevelanders. Residents, who need to appear before the Cleveland Housing Court, can attend their court hearing without traveling downtown. Reservations are required.

     “We want to make it easier for the public to attend hearings,” said Cleveland Housing Court Administrative Judge W. Moná Scott in a press release. “Eviction hearings often have no-shows due to lack of transportation and childcare or fear of missing work. The Neighborhood Housing Court Kiosk program will alleviate those concerns and help to bridge the digital divide.”

     South Branch is the first of four Cleveland Public Library locations to feature the Neighborhood Housing Court computer kiosks. The program will eventually spread to the Mount Pleasant, Carnegie West, and Glenville branches. “We chose these neighborhood locations because they have some of the highest eviction rates in the city,” said Judge Scott.

     Cleveland Housing Court purchased the computer kiosk equipment using a technology grant from the Ohio Supreme Court.

     Aaron Mason, Director of Community Engagement, Cleveland Public Library, explained the process as simple and easy. Residents with a court date and time show up at the library a few minutes early. A court bailiff lets the court know they are present and ready. A library staff person enters a code into the fully automated system. The hearing takes place inside a soundproof room and in real-time. The court is open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 5 pm.

     “The added benefit of having it here is that library staff can assist people with children to give them reading materials or something to do while court takes place,” said Mason.

     Cleveland Eviction Data showed that the Detroit Shoreway, Stockyard, Cudell, Edgewater neighborhoods, and parts of the Clark Fulton and West Boulevard neighborhoods, had the highest eviction rates in 2021. Not surprisingly, it’s the fastest-growing real estate market in Cleveland.

     “During the pandemic, over 45% of our residents faced eviction,” said Jasmin Santana, Ward 14 Councilwoman, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “In the Clark Fulton neighborhood, 45% of families are impoverished. They have limited or no access to the internet. It is a game changer.”

     Councilwoman Santana said the kiosk meets residents where they are. In choosing the Clark Fulton neighborhood as the first pilot program, residents faced with an eviction will have access to the court system in a way that was not possible before.

     The lack of affordable housing in Tremont and Ohio City, Clark-Fulton, and Stockyards neighborhoods only adds to the eviction problem. New construction projects like The Dexter, Market Square, Church + State, and Tinnerman Lofts have added over 600 market-rate and luxury apartments. The second phase of the Market Square development project along West 25th Street near the intersection of Chatham and Gehring avenues could go as high as 18 stories adding hundreds more expensive apartments.

     The Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity, suggests building more affordable housing to supply the current demand. With only 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 low–income renter households, more affordable housing options reduce the risk of being evicted. Policymakers need to evaluate the eviction process to ensure housing policies are inclusive and effective, according to the Institute. Eviction should never force renters into homelessness.

     Evictions happen when a tenant does not pay rent or for a lease violation which could include using, selling, or manufacturing illegal drugs at the rental unit, damaging property, or causing a disturbance. Landlords cannot cut off the electric, water, heat, or change the locks to prevent the tenant from entering the property. Vandalizing or destroying property belonging to a tenant is illegal.

     In Ohio, a landlord must file an eviction action before getting a judgment from the court. Tenants are entitled to a hearing to present evidence in their support. If the landlord wins, a court-ordered move-out is issued. After five days, the landlord can ask the sheriff for assistance. Landlords can sue for back rent, utilities, or other damages in the second cause of action, an opportunity to pursue a claim for money against the tenant. Tenants can dispute the money claimed in the second cause but must appear before a housing court judge.

     An eviction filing is a public record. It can affect credit reports and make it hard to rent in the future. Once served an eviction notice, the Cleveland Housing Court schedules a hearing and sends a summons with the date, time, and location. Tenants can hire a lawyer and fight the eviction. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the fifth oldest legal aid organization in the United States, offers free legal advice to eligible low-income individuals in court and administrative hearings. (https://lasclev.org)

     Melanie Shakarian, Attorney and Director of Development & Communications, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said in Cleveland, there is a right to counsel for people facing eviction who have children in the home. Access to the physical court is essential for tenants to plead their case.

     “People cannot feel empowered if denied access to the court procedures,” said Shakarian. “We offer free legal advice clinics at the Cleveland Public Libraries where live, in-person attorneys answer questions. It is free legal advice in partnership with the library.” 

     The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland represented over 20,000 people last year, by her estimates, helping them to navigate housing instabilities and evictions. “Home is the center of life. Without a stable housing situation, people jeopardize their education, work, and family health,” Shakarian added. “A family of four earning less than $50,000 a year would qualify for our help.” 

     If you think you qualify for help, contact The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland at 216-861-5835. You can also apply through the 2-1-1 chat box/phone number. After a quick screening, a lawyer will be in contact with you to gather more information and explain the next steps.

     A national moratorium on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protected people from losing their homes. The moratorium expired in July 2021, followed by the Supreme Court’s ruling that eliminated eviction protections that had kept millions of households stable.

     For many tenants with an eviction hearing, appearing in front of a housing court judge can be difficult. Cleveland Housing Court is in the Justice Center Complex at 1200 Ontario Street. Public transportation takes time to get there. Off-street parking near the Justice Center is available but can be expensive. The length of the court trial depends on the complexity of the case.

     “Libraries are about whatever the community needs,” said Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director, CEO, Cleveland Public Library. “If we can help stop one eviction, we’ve done our job.”

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