Right to Counsel Program helps lower Cleveland eviction rate in first six months

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — When dad Mario Hughes found himself in a difficult situation with his landlord, he turned to the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, qualifying for the Right to Counsel program.

“The legal counsel gave me a chance to breathe and have options,” he said. “I feel like there are a lot of folks that are being taken advantage of or put in situations like mine and not knowing the way out.”

Supervising Attorney Hazel Remesch underscored the importance of having professional help for tenants. 

“The attorney’s ability to navigate that system is really critical,” she said.

Launched in July, a recent report shows that in the first six months 93 percent of nearly 70 cases were able to avoid eviction or an involuntary move.

“This isn’t a normal year, so the fact that we’re having that much of an impact given everybody’s current circumstances is huge,” said Remesch.

Out of 1,600 who reached out, 323 households, which included 700 children, were eligible for assistance.

Run jointly by Legal Aid and United Way of Greater Cleveland, people at or below the federal poverty level and who have at least one child living with them are eligible for a lawyer at no cost.

“The good thing is that we have this legislation in place and the citizens of the city of Cleveland do have this right, it’s not a favor, it’s a right in our community,” said Augie Napoli, CEO and President of UWGC.

Hughes has an 8-year-old son and says without the program he would just now be settling his family into a new life somewhere else. “Not only would I be evicted, I would be illegally evicted and not knowing.”

Legal Aid says aside from the help of an attorney, rental assistance has been an important part of the puzzle.

According to CHN Housing Partners, nearly 14,000 people have applied for rental assistance — with a combined loss of 203 million dollars in annual income as of Feb. 3.

The report says right now, Right to Counsel only covers 38 percent of people facing eviction.

“It’s just a matter of time once those moratoriums are lifted there will be a tsunami of people facing evictions,” Napoli said of what they are bracing for as the response to the pandemic changes.

The current moratorium issued by the CDC ends on March 31.

The report also calls for additional funding to reach more people.

Hughes hopes more people will learn about the program. “I think this is one of the best programs because it helps folks out like me who did not know and now that I do know I want everybody to know,” he said.

For more information, you can go to Free Eviction Help, call United Way’s helpline 2-1-1, or contact the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland by phone or online.

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