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City Club Panel and Tenant's Rights/Evictions

eviction panel.jpg

On Wednesday, November 28th, our first event for the day was a trip to the City Club for lunch where we witnessed a panel discussion concerning "Combating Eviction: The Role of Right to Counsel in Housing."

As the City Club notes read, "earlier this year, the Northeast Ohio community came together through the One Community Reads program to read Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City by Matthew Desmond. The vicious cycle of eviction and poverty presented in the book sparked many conversations in Northeast Ohio as leaders and activists alike came together to determine possible solutions to decrease the number of evictions and transitional homelessness and increase safe, stable housing for our most vulnerable residents. Right to counsel programs are a possible solution, guaranteeing low-income individuals legal representation in eviction cases..."

Accordingly, in July of 2017, the New York City Council passed a bill guaranteeing tenants the right to legal representation; two of this bill's sponsors, NYC City Councilpersons Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, were part of this day's City Club panel along with Cleveland City Councilperson Anthony Brancatelli (Ward 12) and Cleveland City Council President Kevin J. Kelley. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Darrielle Snipes, reporter/producer at "ideastream".
(for more about this New York City Law please see http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7076-city-council-passes-right-to-counsel-for-low-income-tenants-in-housing-court/)

The discussion largely concerned the need for such laws to protect tenants from being evicted and the ultimate potential financial benefits to cities who avoid increasing the homeless population. Also, no small benefit was the fact that families wouldn't be displaced and children can have a more secure environment and not have switch schools which can be detrimental to their education.

Among the things that we learned was that in New York City, prior to this law, the landlords usually prevailed in eviction/housing cases because they almost always were represented by attorneys while tenants seldom were. According to Councilpersons Levine and Gibson, the playing field is on the way to be leveled and the rate of evictions has dramatically decreased.

To be sure, Cleveland Council President Kelley and Councilperson Brancatelli are exploring the possibilities of passing such a law here in Cleveland. To no surprise, in attendance on this day at the City Club were community leaders and other Cleveland City Council members like Phyllis Cleveland (Ward 5) and Matt Zone (Ward 15).

In the Q&A, we asked if such laws were beneficial to people who have recently immigrated to the United States from other countries. NYC Councilperson Levine replied that indeed they were. He contended that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, were vulnerable because they did not want to create a situation where their legal status would be questioned regardless of what it might be.  Previously, they might not even go to court to make a case for themselves. Therefore, outreach is is being implemented to let them know (in a language they can understand) what their rights are and not be afraid to come forward regardless of their legal status as a foreign-born person. 

We also spoke with our good friend, Ms. Meryl Johnson who told us that we should definitely read "Evicted:..." because it presents both sides of these issues from a tenant and a landlord perspective. She smiled as she mentioned to us that another good book is "Becoming" by former First Lady Michelle Obama; Ms. Johnson is reading it now and can't wait to get back to it.  

Justin Faulhaber