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Watch live as City Club forum discusses tenants’ right to counsel when faced with eviction

November 28, 2018

Watch live as City Club forum discusses tenants’ right to counsel when faced with eviction

CLEVELAND, Ohio – More than 10,000 eviction cases were filed last year in Cleveland Municipal Court. But only one percent of those tenants had an attorney to help mitigate against the homelessness, personal strain and psychological trauma that are the fallout of eviction.

And evictions will be the topic of a public forum today at the City Club of Cleveland. New York City Council members Vanessa L. Gibson and Mark Levine -- leaders of the right-to-counsel movement in New York – and Cleveland City Councilmen Tony Brancatelli and Kevin Kelley will discuss how to decrease eviction rates and homelessness and ease the financial burden for cities combating those problems.

You can watch the discussion live at 12:30 p.m. in the video player above.

Unlike defendants in criminal cases, who are constitutionally guaranteed legal representation, defendants in housing cases have no such right. That means, the vast majority must navigate the system alone – often with devastating consequences. The upheaval can be profoundly destabilizing for families, who often must change schools or lose work on account of transience. And finding affordable, safe and decent housing becomes increasingly difficult with an eviction on one’s record.

In the near future, Cleveland hopes to see fewer tenants disenfranchised in housing court, as the city aims to join New York City and several other municipalities nationwide in passing legislation that guarantees a right to counsel for housing court defendants. Since 2014, when New York’s right-to-counsel movement was born, evictions in the city have declined by 24 percent.

The role that eviction plays in perpetuating the cycle of poverty became the focus of community conversation in Northeast Ohio earlier this year, when Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City was chosen for the One Community Reads shared reading experience. Thousands throughout the region took part in group discussions about the book, which follows eight families living in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods, struggling to work their way out of debt, overcome addiction or raise children – all while making the heartbreaking decision between putting food on the table or paying the rent.

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