Ohio nonprofit launches eviction relief program amid shortage of affordable housing
Eviction rates in some areas across Ohio are rising, and it’s disproportionately affecting low-income rural communities. Adding to the problem is a significant shortage of affordable housing.
In response, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) — an Ohio legal aid nonprofit with offices in Dayton, Defiance, and Toledo — is launching a rural eviction relief program.
Through the program, low-income tenants of Allen, Auglaize, Champaign, Clark, Logan, Mercer and Miami counties may be eligible to receive free legal representation if they are facing an eviction or other legal housing issues.
“The end of the pandemic’s public health emergency, combined with an increase in housing and rental costs, has created a significant housing crisis in Ohio and across the country,” Matthew Currie, the managing attorney at ABLE said. “Rural counties in Ohio surrounding Dayton have been particularly impacted.”
Ohio residents can contact ABLE’s Tenant Information Hotline to see if they qualify for free assistance by calling 1-833-777-0277.
WYSO’s Alejandro Figueroa spoke with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality’s Kristina Coen about the eviction relief program and who it serves.
Transcript edited lightly for length and clarity.
Alejandro Figueroa: According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, roughly 20% of Ohio renters qualify as “extremely low income." And then we're seeing these evictions going on really statewide. Can you talk about what are some of the reasons why that's happening right now?
Kristina Coen: Ohio and all of the country really is in kind of a housing crisis right now. In Ohio, there's a shortage of over, I believe it was 400,000 affordable homes. A lot of it has to do with inflation that housing prices have skyrocketed, which has led to rents increasing. There's a huge issue with large out-of-state investors buying up properties and then not doing any kind of maintenance or upkeep. But they continue to increase and increase and increase the rent. There's a number of factors that are going into it, but across the board, across Ohio and across the country, there is just a low income housing shortage.
Figueroa: In response to that, ABLE is launching this rural eviction relief program and it covers Allen Auglaize, Champaign, Clark, Logan, Mercer and Miami counties. Can you talk about why ABLE launched this program specifically focusing on these counties?
Coen: This program is part of a pilot program that's funded by [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], and those counties were chosen because they have the largest number of extremely low-income renters combined with the highest shortage of available housing. And that's combined with the issue that across the country in eviction proceedings, 98% and this is a national statistic, but it holds true for Ohio as well. Roughly 98% of landlords are represented by council, whereas only about 3% of tenants are represented. So tenants come into these proceedings already at a huge disadvantage.
And so there's a couple of different initiatives. One is right to counsel, there are different right to council projects all over the country and all over Ohio. And what we're finding is the right to counsel, which is a program where through local legislation, if you have an eviction pending and you meet certain income requirements, you're entitled to an appointed attorney. In those countries where this is occurring, we're finding that the eviction rates are dropping significantly. It's like 50% or more of the evictions that would have gone through previously are not happening because of right to counsel initiatives. So that really tells us that a lot of these tenants do have valid defenses. And so by going in and representing tenants in the courtroom, that in itself makes a huge impact on limiting and lowering those numbers.
Figueroa: And so with this program, who is it for and what type of representation is ABLE offering?
Coen: We do extend beyond the seven counties. We cover 32 counties across western and northwestern Ohio, but we are able to provide a variety of services. So in the seven counties, we have a very broad grant that lets us cover pretty much any landlord tenant related topics. We can do conditions issues. We can do landlord-tenant disputes, we can handle evictions. Basically anything that's going to have an impact on the preservation of housing we're able to cover through legal representation in the courtroom.
Figueroa: How can people know more about these services and is ABLE having any sort of events or workshops to connect with communities?
Coen: I would encourage anybody throughout the state of Ohio, if you're having any kind of landlord tenant issue, we do have a tenant eviction relief hotline that covers all 88 counties in Ohio. That number is 1-(833)-777-0277. The other way is through Legal Aid Line’s website and they do all of the intake for our representation. We also have a clinic coming up. It's a free clinic. We do highly recommend that you pre-register, but we can take walk-ins if necessary, and that will take place at Western Ohio Community Action Partnership's Celina office. That is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, September 29. That address is 420 N. Brandon Ave. Salina, Ohio.
Figueroa: You were just listening to Kristina Coen. She's a staff attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality. Kristina, thanks for talking with me.
Coen: Thank you.
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.