Sound of Ideas: Cleveland Launches Right-To-Counsel Program for Eviction Cases

Cleveland Launches Right-To-Counsel Program For Eviction Cases

By Taylor Haggerty

The Right-to-Counsel initiative guarantees legal representation in eviction cases to low-income households with at least one child. [zimmytw / Shutterstock

A Cleveland program providing free legal representation for low-income residents facing eviction kicks off Wednesday.

The right-to-counsel initiative guarantees free legal representation in eviction cases for extremely low-income residents with at least one child in the household. A study by Case Western Reserve University prior to the program’s approval by city council in October 2019 found 60 percent of evictions involve a family with at least one child.

United Way of Greater Cleveland will lead the program, contracting with the Legal Aid Society (LAS).

LAS originally anticipated serving about 3,000 residents annually, according to Housing Group Managing Attorney Abigail Staudt. But that number is likely to increase due to widespread COVID-19 job and income losses, Staudt said.

“I don’t know if right away we’re going to see a huge number,” Staudt said. “But I think in the next coming months, we’re going to see many more tenants at risk than we had anticipated.”

Information about the program will be provided when court summonses are sent and on display around the courts. Housing court defendants also will be contacted by LAS.

 “They’ll receive two contacts, hopefully right away, within like the first week of the filing,” she said, though tenants will still need to apply by phone or email to participate.

LAS is also partnering with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless on community outreach, Staudt said, including door-knocking initiatives.

“So many people are at risk of losing their housing because their income has changed so drastically,” Staudt said. “Sometimes it does take the assistance of an attorney to negotiate resolutions.”

LAS will have a form available for anyone who has an upcoming hearing but wasn’t aware of the program to ask for a continuance on their case while they acquire legal representation.

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