Equal access to justice for all is the foundation of American democracy. Yet, the United States ensures no protections for civil legal issues such as evictions. In these cases, the basis for a thriving
family is often in the balance – and without access to an attorney, many people are unnecessarily plunged into deeper instability. Thankfully, in Cleveland, more families will soon have access to
crucial legal representation that can protect them from losing their homes.
Cleveland recently established a right to counsel (RTC) for low-income tenants facing eviction. Effective on July 1st, 2020, tenants at 100% or below of the federal poverty guidelines who have at least one child in their household will have access to free legal counsel.
In Cleveland, about 9,000 evictions are filed each year. Only 1%-2% of tenants facing eviction are represented by legal counsel, whereas most landlords can afford a lawyer. Cleveland’s new RTC law, the first such law in the Midwest, will help balance the scales of justice.
The scales are already levelling in New York City. In 2017, New York became the first city in America to pass a right to counsel. Its legislation guarantees that tenants under 200% of federal
poverty guidelines facing eviction have access to legal representation. In the year following the passage of the legislation, a report by the Community Service Society found that evictions in RTC
zip codes declined more than five times faster than those in non-RTC zip codes.
New York City is also expected to gain financially from RTC legislation, with estimates reaching as high as $320 million in savings annually. This is because for every 1$ spent on legal aid, $5-$6 are saved in providing services, according to a 2014 report from Legal Services Corporation (LSC).
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland began examining the merits of a right to counsel in Cleveland in 2018 thanks to a grant from Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland’s Innovation Mission. From this platform, the Housing Justice Alliance was created. The Alliance is led by Legal Aid attorney Hazel Remesch and an advisory committee which includes low-income community members, representatives from the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, and city leaders — including Council President Kelley and Council Member Brancatelli. The signing of Cleveland’s RTC is the culmination of the Alliance’s work.
The United Way of Greater Cleveland is working with Cleveland City Council to lead and implement the new legislation. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is contracted with United Way to
provide legal representation. Come July 1 st , Legal Aid will be ready to provide those who qualify for RTC with high-quality legal representation via its experienced staff, pro bono attorneys, and other subcontracted entities.
If you need legal help, call 216-687-1900 to get assistance. You can also apply 24/7 for help online at www.lasclev.org.