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CLEVELAND (WJW) — With stimulus negotiations stalled on Capitol Hill and expiring federal protection, housing advocates in Northeast Ohio are working to connect those facing eviction with resources and legal representation as courts resume hearings.

“The pandemic is hitting harder than anything I’ve seen in 12 years,” said Jennifer Sheehe, housing supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “Our clients are telling us they can’t even move if they want to. They cannot find a place to move to.”

The organization says requests in the last month for help in landlord/tenant issues are up 25 percent from the same time period last year.

“We are very, very worried about the tide of evictions that will be filed,” Sheehe says. And while they’re doing what they can, the demand is overwhelming, “The need is greater than what we can do.”  

They also anticipate foreclosures to increase once the federal moratorium expires on Aug. 31.

On Saturday, President Trump signed an executive order on evictions. It does not explicitly provide funds to help homeowners and renters rather it directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC to consider measures halting residential evictions, identify federal funds for rental assistance and take appropriate legal action to promote COVID-19 related eviction avoidance.

“I think it’s good news, but I think it’s a wait and see situation as to how much it’s going to help [Legal Aid’s clients],” Sheehe says.

We asked Sheehe what they are hoping for from congress. 

“Just a total moratorium. It’s just, it’s not safe for people to move out, they don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

The nationwide moratorium expired when the 600 dollar unemployment benefit ended a couple of weeks ago.

While noting helpful direction from the State Supreme Court, she says Ohio could also do better. “There’s never been a statewide moratorium.”

Cleveland’s Right to Counsel Program launched last month has been very successful Sheehe says.

“You have to have a child in the house and you have to income qualify,” she says. “They have a right to an attorney.”

Legal Aid works with the landlord’s representation and their ultimate goal is to help stabilize the housing market.

“We are sympathetic to landlords and we understand that they have their own bills to pay”, she says.

The organization covers five counties from Lorain to Ashtabula.

“We are now trying to be responsive to COVID and so we have changed the way we react,” she says. “So now you don’t need that notice, you just need to tell us ‘I can’t pay my rent’ and we will try to set you up with whatever rent assistance we can find.”

If you are having housing problems you can contact them through the Tenant Information Line here.

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