While housing instability and the lack of affordable housing speaks to a broader City challenge, (see Housing Stability and Poverty in Cleveland: Making Meaningful Progress) the problem of tenant eviction is one of the most crushing symptoms of poverty faced by our residents.

The Scope of the Problem

Studies on housing in Cleveland have documented the level of this problem in our community. The “Cleveland Right to Counsel Report” (January 2021), outlined major eviction issues, including data from a 2019 study by Case Western Reserve University that reveal areas needing urgent attention:

Throughout Cuyahoga County, 36% of our residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing;

  • To afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Cleveland with a minimum-wage job, a person needs to work 73 hours a week to meet rent costs;
  • There are about 9,000 eviction filings in Cleveland per year;
  • 60% of the families facing eviction have children under 18, with an average number of 2 children per household; and
  • 78% of eviction cases involve a woman as head of household, and 77% a Black woman.

The impact of the COVID-19 epidemic has made the eviction problem in Cleveland an even more urgent issue. While the data on evictions are compelling, the impact of this devastating and too-common event are even more striking.

Impacts of the Eviction Epidemic

Few life events create greater disruption and economic insecurity than being evicted. The cascading effects are common and far-reaching:

  • Tenants who are evicted are 30% more likely to lose their wages or job (Aspen Institute, 2020);
  • Evicted tenants move 4 times more frequently than those who have not been evicted and spend more time in homeless shelters;
  • Children in families who are evicted are more likely to be absent from school – affecting graduation outcomes;
  • These children are less likely to be tested for lead poisoning, and more likely to have high lead levels when they are tested (Case Western Reserve study);
  • From a US Census study on the impact of COVID on families and housing, 41% of households with minor children said they had “Slight Confidence” or “No Confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent.

Evictions and Equity

Finally, there is a well-documented, inequitable impact on communities of color and low-income residents. The “Cleveland Right to Counsel Report” noted that 42% of Black families in Cleveland live below the poverty line, compared to 24% of white people.

The Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services reports that 78% of clients who enter the shelter system are people of color and the top 10 ten census tracts for eviction filings from 2016 – 2018 were majority Black tracts. The challenge of evictions is inextricably connected to issues of equity therefore, focusing on equity must be incorporated into any solution.

Action Taken

Through a partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, United Way and a variety of other stakeholders, Cleveland City Council passed legislation in October 2019 to provide:

Low-income tenants in Cleveland with at least one minor child in the household the right to full legal representation by an attorney when facing eviction in Cleveland Housing Court.

Under my leadership as City Council President, the legislation we passed made Cleveland the first city in Ohio and the Midwest to provide this service – and in the ordinance we recognized that the lack of legal counsel in eviction cases “is a violation of a basic human right.”

While the law has only been in effect since July 2020, the first 6 months of activity have shown significant progress:

  • 93% of families with eviction cases in Cleveland Housing Court represented by lawyers from the Legal Aid Society avoided being displaced;
  • 700 children were impacted through this legal representation;
  • 1,600 tenants have inquired about Right to Counsel services
  • 323 cases have been opened by Legal Aid in this period, with 71% involving Black families; and
  • This program also served to connect families to other vital community services, including CARES Act rental assistance and longer-term rental support from local housing partners.

Costs of the Program and the Need for Future Expansion

I consider the program we implemented in July 2020 to be only the beginning of how the City of Cleveland should address issues of housing stability

The Right to Counsel program has made a significant impact to date and has raised over $2 million in revenue for 2021 – from the generous support of United Way, the Cleveland and Gund Foundations, the Legal Aid Society, the City of Cleveland budget, and others – it is not enough to meet the immediate financial need of the existing program or the actual legal needs of all Cleveland families facing eviction.

At the same time, other Right to Counsel programs have been shown to save money for the community, due to the elimination of the costly and detrimental effects of eviction. A study of a similar program in Philadelphia showed an estimated savings of $42 million annually, even after considering expenses of the program. This is one example of how progressive and strategic investments can not only focus on doing what is right but also eliminate costs in the future.

As Mayor, I will continue to be committed to addressing housing stability. I will work to identify funding to fully support the need for legal services for families facing eviction in Housing Court.

I believe my enthusiastic interest and facilitation of the legislative process, and the ultimate passage of this law and support for the implementation of this program, show my seriousness and intent to address the basic needs of low-income families in Cleveland