When a family is evicted from their home, the consequences are often devastating. Housing instability is associated with worse outcomes in mental and physical health, education and future earnings. Evictions strengthen the cycle of poverty, predominately affecting families who already spend most of their limited income on housing and pushing them even deeper into poverty after they are evicted. Nearly 9,000 evictions are filed in Cleveland each year, with nearly 30% involving households with children living at or below 100% of the federal poverty guidelines. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers are expected to rise.
So, what can be done? Studies show that tenants who receive full legal representation in eviction cases are more likely to stay in their homes and save on rent or fees. But while Americans have a constitutional right to no-cost legal counsel in criminal court, the right doesn’t apply in housing court or other civil cases. Here in Cleveland, that will change on July 1 when the city’s new law extending the right to counsel to eviction cases takes effect. The law will allow families at or below 100% of the federal poverty guidelines with at least one child in the household to be entitled to legal representation when faced with an eviction in Cleveland Housing Court. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (LASC) will be the designated provider of legal services for families in need, and they are taking steps to broaden representation for low-income tenants beyond the narrow restrictions of the new law, including renters above the 100% federal poverty threshold, households without children and households outside the City of Cleveland. The Cleveland Foundation is proud to support this work with a recent $2.25 million grant – the largest philanthropic gift in LASC’s history. The grant will allow LASC to increase its capacity to manage the significant rise in caseloads they expect to see from newly eligible families and others seeking representation.
Preventing unjust or unnecessary evictions is not only the right thing to do, it has also been shown to reduce community costs overall. A study by Case Western Reserve University shows that an average of just $1,200 in rental support would have prevented a family’s eviction, a fraction of the cost of a family’s stay in an emergency shelter. New York City became the first U.S. city to pass historic “right to counsel” legislation in 2017. In the first year since implementation, 84% of households represented by lawyers in court were able to avoid displacement; the city is expected to realize a net savings of $320 million annually. In Philadelphia, for every $1.00 the city spends on right to counsel, it receives an estimated benefit of $12.47, saving $45.2 million per year in quantifiable costs. Today, Cleveland families move five times more than the national average. With Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s help, more people will be able to stay in their homes and avoid the disruption and negative ripple effects of eviction. This will benefit individuals and families, and our community as a whole.
With so many families facing financial hardship and unemployment right now, LASC’s services are more important than ever. You can join us in supporting The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland Campaign for Legal Aid here.