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Housing Advocates Anticipating More Eviction Filings As Benefits Expire

The Right-to-Counsel program provides free legal representation to low-income Cleveland residents with at least one child facing eviction. [Nick Castle / ideastream]
A bright green paper reading "final eviction notice"

Housing advocates are working to connect Cleveland residents facing eviction with resources and legal representation as courts continue hearings.

The Legal Aid Society has helped about 29 people facing eviction since launching Cleveland’s Right to Counsel initiative last month, according to managing attorney Abigail Staudt.

The pandemic has exacerbated the existing crisis in housing affordability across the city, Staudt said.

“We now are facing a much larger number of people that are housing unstable,” she said, “and many of those folks had stable income, stable jobs, hadn’t faced evictions before.”

Under the Right to Counsel program, low-income residents with at least one child can receive free legal representation from during eviction proceedings. The housing court communicates the options to residents facing eviction, Staudt said, and can grant a continuance to those who ask to enroll at their initial hearing.

“Our first priority is to assess the case, assign a case to an attorney, identify the amount owed and what rent assistance program would be most suitable for that tenant,” Staudt said.

Those arrangements often must be made within a few days, she said.

“We’re scrambling in many cases, which we anticipated, because there are a number of cases where the tenant doesn’t come to us until a day or two before their hearing,” Staudt said, “or they’ve gone to the court, and the court has granted them a continuance to seek Legal Aid’s assistance.”

A majority of the cases the Legal Aid Society has helped with were the result of tenants struggling to pay rent during the pandemic, Staudt said.

“It’s pretty typical for an eviction to be based on non-payment of rent when there isn’t a pandemic,” Staudt said. “Now that we have a pandemic, it’s even more prevalent.”

Local housing courts saw a spike of eviction filings when they began reopening in June, Staudt said, though it was lower than expected after the months-long moratorium. Case numbers leveled out to normal rates after a few days, Staudt said, but she anticipates more cases are forthcoming.

“We sort of are anticipating another spike in evictions, and it might be a slow spike but I do think they’re going to go up,” Staudt said, particularly as additional unemployment and other CARES Act protections expire.

“Knowing the number of people who are unemployed and how slow our economy is still, I just don’t see how we can deal with the number of people who are housing unstable and facing eviction during the pandemic,” Staudt said.