Right To Counsel Prevented 93% of Cleveland Family Evictions in First Six Months of Program That Provides Low-Income Tenants With Free Legal Assistance


Led by United Way of Greater Cleveland and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Right to Counsel is the result of legislation passed unanimously by Cleveland City Council in 2019

CLEVELAND: United Way and Legal Aid announced that Right to Counsel Cleveland’s (RTC) early results show 93% of those at risk of eviction and represented in Cleveland Housing Court by a Legal Aid attorney avoided an eviction or involuntary move between July – December 2020. In addition, more than $3.8 million of rent relief was distributed by CHN Housing Partners within Cleveland as a result of legal assistance provided to tenants, preserving landlords’ income.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 9,000 evictions were filed annually in Cleveland Housing Court, with the majority of evictions involving Black, female head of households with minor children. As the pandemic continues, eviction filings are expected to dramatically rise among households with similar demographics when rental assistance is depleted, and various tenant protections expire on March 31st. The result is a looming eviction crisis in Cleveland on top of the city’s already existing poverty crisis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cleveland ranked one of the nation’s most impoverished cities with the worst poverty rate for children at 50.5 percent and the second worst poverty rates for working adults and seniors among all major U.S. cities.

“Cleveland is facing an eviction tsunami with devastating consequences if more is not done to provide necessary, ongoing relief to those in need of help, but the team at Right to Counsel Cleveland is working tirelessly to aid families who remain at risk today – a number that continues to rise during the pandemic,” said Augie Napoli, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland and lead partner organization for the RTC program. “A stable home is a basic human right and in its first six months, RTC has shown what is possible when the public and private sector come together to advocate for low-income families at risk of eviction and landlords seeking equitable solutions.”

A 2021 report prepared by United Way and Legal Aid for the City of Cleveland marks the first six months of RTC in Cleveland’s Housing Court with the following history and highlights:

  • In 2019, Cleveland City Council passed Cleveland’s Right to Counsel Ordinance with a recognition that “a lack of legal counsel for low-income tenants with minor children during eviction cases is a violation of a basic human right.”  Through Cleveland Codified Ordinance 375.12, the city became the first in the Midwest to provide such a right.
  • Since July 1, 2020, RTC has provided free legal representation pursuant to the ordinance. This right is delivered to eligible households through a unique public-private sector partnership among the City of Cleveland, United Way and Legal Aid.
  • United Way and Legal Aid have developed a model that provides comprehensive access to high-quality legal representation and other supportive services.  Tenants eligible for RTC can access services through:

“Civil legal services are a crucial to solving issues of housing stability,” said Colleen Cotter, Executive Director of Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “We are proud to work with United Way on Right to Counsel Cleveland, and we look forward to providing future reports to the City.  This initial success is impressive, and we believe this early effectiveness will translate into long-term results for Cleveland and our region.”

Without additional resources focused on legal representation in Cleveland Housing Court, the ripple effects of evictions can devastate affected Cleveland families for decades and include wage and job loss, homelessness and student absenteeism. Ongoing fundraising efforts and long-term government support remain crucial for the sustained success of the program.

According to CHN Housing, nearly 14,000 Cuyahoga County residents who applied for rental assistance have lost more than $203 million in combined annual income as of February 3, 2021.

The initial six-months of RTC data sheds light on the importance of long-term government investment to stabilize housing and neighborhoods across Cleveland. This report details the progress already made by RTC to bridge the justice gap for tenants facing displacement from their homes and neighborhoods.

Beyond free legal representation in Cleveland Housing Court by Legal Aid, RTC provides families with additional resources, including rental assistance and other legal aid.  RTC also connects clients to 2-1-1 HelpLink, United Way’s free and confidential 24/7 service which assists callers with other needs, including food, shelter, employment and more.

Families can find out if they qualify for RTC by visiting www.FreeEvictionHelp.org or calling (216) 687-1900 or 2-1-1.


About Right to Counsel Cleveland: Housing instability, often caused by eviction, is a root cause of poverty. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland began researching ways to address this issue in partnership with the Sisters of Charity Foundation’s Innovation Mission. On October 1, 2019, Cleveland City Council passed historic legislation making legal representation in eviction cases a right for tenants with at least one child in the household living at or below the Federal Poverty Level ($21,300) and naming United Way of Greater Cleveland as Lead Partner Organization. Cleveland is the fourth city in the nation to enact such a right and the first to leverage a public-private partnership to do so.

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