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Cleveland To Offer Free Help For Families Facing Eviction

Cleveland City Council on Monday unanimously approved legislation that will provide access to free legal help for low-income families facing eviction.

The United Way of Greater Cleveland will lead the program, contracting with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to provide services, according to the city.

“United Way is going to serve as the lead partner,” said Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley. “We can work through their infrastructure. They can do the training of attorneys, they can do the back office, they can do the billing.”

The legislation, known as “The Right to Counsel,” will also be supported by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s Solo Practice Incubator, according to a city council press release.

“Right to counsel is not about tenant versus landlord -- it’s about stabilizing the person in need to prevent eviction, and United Way is proud to work alongside City Council, Legal Aid and the Housing Justice Alliance on this public-private partnership,” said Augie Napoli, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, in a press release. “This city-wide effort is exactly what fuels the kind of change we need to permanently break the cycle of poverty in Cleveland.”

About 60 percent of the 9,000 eviction cases filed every year in Cleveland involve households with children, according to a Case Western Reserve University study prepared for city council and Legal Aid. High school absences increase after eviction, the study found, and families tend to move to more distressed neighborhoods. In most cases, an average of $1,200 – or two months’ rent – in rental support would have prevented eviction, the study says.

“What we envision is that we’ll probably see a lot more of the cases going to mediation,” Cleveland Municipal Court/Housing Court Judge Ronald O’Leary said at the meeting. “The ideal situation is that landlords and tenants can come to an agreement that really works best for all the parties involved.”

Attorneys will also be able to file counterclaims against landlords once eviction process starts.

“If a landlord has failed to remedy the condition and the tenant didn’t pay the rent because there was a condition that existed, that becomes potentially a counterclaim in that eviction, that if the tenant doesn’t raise at that point, they lose it,” said Hazel Romesch, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

The legislation goes into effect July 2020. Tenants can seek more information by contacting United Way’s 211 HelpLink, a free and confidential 24-hour line with referral specialists, or the Legal Aid’s tenant hotline at (216) 861-5955.

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