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Cincinnati To Launch Eviction Legal Aid Program; $55M+ Still Available In Rent Assistance

Supreme Court Eviction Moratorium
Brittainy Newman
In this Aug. 4, 2021, photo, housing advocates in New York protest on the eviction moratorium. Judges in Hamilton County, Ohio, did not consistently enforce the moratorium; it has now expired nationwide.

Cincinnati will use federal funding to help residents facing eviction find legal services and financial assistance. The Access to Justice pilot program will launch this fall with nearly $800,000 from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Housing and Urban Development and the city's human services fund.

Director of Human Services Virginia Tallent says the pilot program is a partnership with the Legal Aid Society.

"Cincinnati Legal Aid would be able to represent an additional 1,000 families, 700 of whom would be city residents, with a goal to resolve 80% or more of those cases successfully," Tallent said.

Tallent says the Biden administration has been pushing local governments to use stimulus funding for eviction prevention as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"If people are evicted, the reality is oftentimes they're forced into emergency congregate shelter or forced to double-up with family members or friends, which of course, puts everyone at greater risk for contracting COVID," she said.

Tallent says the timeline for Access to Justice isn't final yet.

Up to 30 families were evicted in Hamilton County just Tuesday, according to Legal Aid Managing Attorney Nick DiNardo.

So far around $11.8 million in rent, mortgage and utility assistance has been distributed throughout Hamilton County.

At least $55 million is still available county-wide; local agencies distributing the money are staffing up to deal with a backlog in applications.

Hamilton County Job and Family Services is pulling in 10 staff members from other departments to work on applications. JFS has about 450 applications that haven't been reviewed, plus another 800 or so that have been rejected or have a checklist of items needed to make the application complete.

JFS staffers will reach back out to anyone with a rejected or incomplete application to determine what the problem is and how the application can be eligible for aid.

Despite the backlog, Interim JFS COO Kevin Holt says he wants many more families to apply.

"Even if they're not behind in their rent, we can come in and pay their next three months if they suffered some financial loss because of COVID," Holt said. "So many families have — they lost their overtime hours, they had to stay home because the kid was working remotely."

Holt says he's committing to approving at least $3 million dollars in assistance during the month of September.

A new hotline starting Wednesday will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each weekday specifically to answer questions from families who have already applied for help: 513-946-7200. Holt says applicants can also email him directly: kevin.holt@jfs.ohio.gov.

The Community Action Agency distributes federal funding for the city. President and CEO Mark Lawson says they recognize people are having a difficult time applying and reaching CAA for help. About 3,000 applications are submitted, but incomplete.

"I can't explain enough how much the volume is out of this world that people need help," Lawson said. "Those people who do not have complete applications, they're not getting one-on-one assistance. We reached out to United Way and they've graciously offered to help us have a personal contact with each of those 3,000 people that have some documents in."

Lawson says they've hired six people currently in training, and have job openings for three more positions. He says they've also made changes to the application process to make it faster.

According to data from CAA and JFS, the neighborhoods with the highest distribution of rent and utility assistance so far are:

  • Westwood
  • West Price Hill
  • College Hill
  • East Price Hill
  • Winton Hills

The easiest place to find assistance throughout Hamilton County is at 513relief.org, which includes information about federal, county, and city-level aid programs.

Corrected: September 1, 2021 at 1:17 PM EDT
This article previously misstated Kevin Holt's title and has since been corrected.
Becca Costello grew up in Williamsburg and Batavia (in Clermont County) listening to WVXU. Before joining the WVXU newsroom, she worked in public radio & TV journalism in Bloomington, Indiana and Lincoln, Nebraska. Becca has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including from local chapters of the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and contributed to regional and national Murrow Award winners. Becca has a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Becca's dog Cincy (named for the city they once again call home) is even more anxious than she is.