Right to Counsel

Right to Counsel - Cleveland

Housing instability, often caused by eviction, is a root cause of on-going poverty in Cleveland. Each year in the City of Cleveland alone, approximately 9,000 eviction actions are filed against tenants. Sixty percent of these evictions are filed against households with children.

Understanding the Need

In 2018, a team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University analyzed five years’ worth of eviction data from the Cleveland Housing Court. For families facing eviction, the threat of homelessness is just one of the worries when faced with a possible eviction. Working renters who lose their home are 20% more likely to lose their jobs. For children, eviction often results in chronic school absenteeism, particularly in grades 7-12, leading to reduced achievement and social disengagement. In addition, children under the age of two touched by the eviction process are at an elevated risk for lead exposure, another chronic issue United Way of Greater Cleveland is leading with its partners in the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition.

Even though these basic needs are severely threatened in civil court, where evictions take place, only 1% of tenants facing eviction have legal representation because the right to an attorney is only guaranteed in criminal cases. In contrast, 75% of landlords have an attorney by their side. Due to this inequity, the majority of eviction filings result in an eviction.

How can we level the playing field?

In October 2019, Cleveland City Council, under the leadership of Council President Kevin Kelley, championed and passed legislation that established free legal counsel as a right for families with one child in the household who are living at or below the federal poverty line and facing eviction. Since the legislation’s passage, United Way and Legal Aid, co-leads of Right to Counsel-Cleveland (RTC-C), are preparing to launch the program, which begins providing services to qualifying families on July 1, 2020.

As a lead organization, United Way strengthens RTC-C, not only through on-going fundraising efforts but through experience in program development and administration, as well as data collection, analysis and outcome measurement.

Cleveland is only the fourth city in the U.S. to pass this legislation which will lead to lower rates of residential instability, homelessness and related family disruptions.

Tenants can seek more information by contacting United Way’s 2-1-1 HelpLink, a free and confidential 24-hour lifeline with referral specialists or Legal Aid’s tenant hotline at 216.687.1900 (English) or 216.586.3190 (Spanish).