United Way of Greater Cleveland and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland Co-Lead Program
that Provides Families Facing Eviction with Free Legal Counsel in Housing Court

CLEVELAND: United Way of Greater Cleveland today announced a $3 million commitment over three years to promote housing stability and accelerate Right to Counsel – Cleveland (RTC-C) during the COVID-19 pandemic. RTC-C will provide eligible families living at or below the federal poverty line and facing eviction with free legal representation in housing court beginning July 1, 2020.

“Cleveland now has a crisis upon a crisis within our community,” said Augie Napoli, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland. “Given our city already had some of the worst poverty rates in the nation for children, working adults and seniors before the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring Right to Counsel - Cleveland moves forward as planned is more important than ever. United Way of Greater Cleveland is proud to commit $3 million over the next three years to the program as part of our work within the Impact Institute, a cornerstone
of our business transformation.”

Napoli added, “Right to Counsel is about empowering people and advocating for stable housing and we look forward to partnering with Legal Aid, Mayor Frank Jackson, Cleveland City Council and the entire community to tackle this root cause of poverty.”

Data available before the COVID-19 outbreak reported that approximately 9,000 evictions were filed against tenants in the city of Cleveland alone. Sixty percent of these evictions were filed against households with children. While new data showing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Greater Clevelanders is not yet available, the number of individuals and families at risk of eviction is expected to dramatically increase as a result of this crisis.

Right to Counsel - Cleveland costs approximately $7 million over its first three years of operation. This $3 million investment from United Way of Greater Cleveland is made possible through principal gifts directed to the Impact Institute’s Housing Stability Solution Center.

The investment will support United Way of Greater Cleveland and Legal Aid’s joint program efforts, which include staffing needed to provide representation to the estimated 3,000 eligible cases each year. $1.5 million of United Way’s $3 million-dollar commitment will be designated to Legal Aid to support this initiative.

In addition, funds will be used to evaluate the program, implement a robust community education and awareness campaign and provide wraparound services for clients.

This Housing Stability funding announcement follows the Cleveland philanthropic community’s swift creation of the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund of which United Way of Greater Cleveland is a partner. Under the Cleveland Foundation’s leadership, the Fund distributes grants to nonprofit organizations serving on the front lines of the pandemic throughout Greater Cleveland. Donations can be made at ClevelandFoundation.org/Response in any amount, and all contributions are tax deductible.

What is Right to Counsel – Cleveland?
The RTC-C Program will provide Clevelanders facing eviction living at or below the federal poverty line with children the right to free legal representation in Cleveland Housing Court. Eviction can create costly and traumatic challenges for families and is a root cause of poverty leading to homelessness, job loss, as well as decreased academic performance and school attendance.

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 a minimum of 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 of Greater Cleveland and Legal Aid have prepared to launch the program, which begins providing services to qualifying families on July 1, 2020.

“Access to free legal representation in housing court helps protect a basic human right – a roof over your head,” said Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley. “Before this legislation, that right only applied to criminal court. We’re confident that Right to Counsel – Cleveland and the partnership between United Way of Greater Cleveland and Legal Aid will make a significant difference in the lives of Clevelanders.”

Cleveland City Council named United Way of Greater Cleveland as the lead organization and selected Legal Aid as the lead provider of legal representation.

“We are eager to launch right to counsel in Cleveland Housing Court in 2020 with the City of Cleveland and United Way of Greater Cleveland,” said Legal Aid Executive Director, Colleen Cotter. “We are proud to be the first city in the United States to launch right to counsel with this unique public-private partnership.”

As the lead organization, United Way of Greater Cleveland strengthens RTC-C through ongoing fundraising efforts to secure the $7 million needed over three years, experience in program development and administration, as well as data collection, analysis and outcome measurement. United Way of Greater Cleveland hired Julie Wisneski who now serves as program manager for RTC-C where she works closely with the lead organizations to ensure the success of the RTC-C.

Beyond the representation by Legal Aid in Cleveland Housing Court, RTC-C will aid families with the additional resources they need, such as food, utilities and rental assistance, through CHN Housing Partner’s Family Stability Initiative, which United Way of Greater Cleveland has funded since 2014. RTC-C also connects clients to wraparound resources they need, including food and shelter, through United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 2-1-1 HelpLink, a free and confidential 24/7 service.

RTC-C is based on a proven model that has supported families and saved millions of dollars in U.S. cities, including New York City, which experienced an 84 percent reduction in evictions for tenants with legal representation and an estimated cost savings of $320 million per year by preventing issues like family homelessness.


Media contacts:
Katie Connell (404-895-5513 - m) kconnell@unitedwaycleveland.org
Savannah Heck (440-281-3934 - m) sheck@unitedwaycleveland.org
Melanie Shakarian (216-215-0074 - m) melanie.shakarian@lasclev.org