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Growing number of Cleveland residents take advantage of free legal advice under Right to Counsel

About 79-percent of eligible Cleveland residents facing eviction received right to counsel help in 2022.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Right to Counsel-Cleveland handled 6,379 cases in 2022 compared to 4,978 in 2021.

The number of tenants facing eviction who receive legal representation continues to increase since Cleveland passed its right-to-counsel legislation two and half years ago.

Nearly 79% of eligible Cleveland residents facing eviction received right-to-counsel help last year. That’s what Right to Counsel-Cleveland (RTC-C), the partnership between the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and United Way of Cleveland, who are responsible for handling these cases, told city council Tuesday. That’s up from 60% in 2021.

According to last year’s RTC-C report, about 1% of tenants facing evictions received legal help prior to this legislation.

“We are enabling people – low income tenants to actually use their voice in the system to defend their rights. And without the right to counsel, that avenue is not there,” Legal Aid Society Executive Director Colleen Cotter said.

RTC-C provided findings from the last two years, along with the New York-based consulting firm Stout tasked with evaluating the data, to Cleveland City Council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee.

The demand for legal help is on the rise. RTC-C handled 6,379 cases in 2022 compared to 4,978 in 2021.

The RTC-C report shows that clients had concerns beyond just eviction – such as securing time to move or securing rent assistance. Many clients had multiple concerns.

“Avoiding eviction judgement doesn’t necessarily mean people stay in their homes,” said Stout Managing Director Neil Steinkamp. “Some of those people don’t want to stay in their homes … there’s a portion of people who no longer have a good relationship with their landlord or just can’t stay in that home or don’t want to because it’s not safe for them to stay in that home”

Since July 2020, 82% of RTC-C clients wanted to prevent eviction and 91% of those clients were successful in avoiding eviction.

“I’m hoping that for folks who don’t know that this is out there that they will reach out whenever they’re facing an eviction,” said Hazel Remesch, Legal Aid Society’s managing attorney for housing.

Right to Counsel-Cleveland client demographics 2022
RTC-C clients are primary female and Black.

RTC-C found that 2022 clients were disproportionately female and Black compared to Cleveland’s overall demographics. Clients in 2022 were more than 80-percent female, while Cleveland’s population is more than 50-percent female. Clients in 2022 were more than 70-percent Black, while Cleveland’s population is a little less than 50-percent Black.

While right-to-counsel is showing successful outcomes, Cotter said she’s concerned about keeping this program funded.

“We did not think that we would reach that many people and we’re so excited that we have. And we have proven that we are effective. We need to have a good conversation about the long-term sustainability of this program.”

It cost about $3.1 million to operate RTC-C. About 29% of that budget comes from the city, which includes $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding that is distributed evenly between 2023 and 2024.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.