On the front lines of Columbus’ eviction battle

By Tristan Navera  – Staff reporter, Columbus Business First

Jul 9, 2018, 1:17pm

Marcus Salter, it seems, is always smiling.

On this day, his madras outfit complements the yellow walls in a local homeless shelter as he leads a group of 25 women in a two-hour workshop on what to do when a landlord threatens eviction.

Community Mediation Services of Central Ohio, whose tools for tenants include these workshops, has a goal of stemming the eviction tide: 18,000 are filed in Franklin County each year, the highest in the state.

More than half of the women in the room have experienced one.

“We’re in the midst of an eviction crisis,” Salter tells them as he starts the program. “One way to combat it is education, and we want to give you ladies an opportunity to learn. Our goal is to avoid evictions altogether, because we all know it can be hard to move on from that.”

Many of the women acknowledge some responsibility but also said they’re frustrated with the system, which Salter says he understands. He has first-hand experience.

The upshot

The first six months of 2018 show the city’s high eviction count is continuing, but there are some signs of progress, according to information obtained from Franklin County.

The number of eviction cases filed in the county is the exact same that it was in the first half of last year – 8,637 cases. Of those, though, the number resulting in eviction judgments ticked down a bit. The number of Writ of Restitutions – which authorize the U.S. Marshals to schedule an eviction and is a good indicator of an eviction judgement – is down 7 percent from last year, to 4,566.

Of those, the number of set-outs processed – when the landlord actually requests law enforcement to remove a tenant’s property – is down 11 percent, to 2,916.

But these numbers only indicate the number of legal proceedings are down. They don’t track how many people were actually displaced. It isn’t uncommon, for example, for a tenant facing an eviction filing to move in with a friend or relative in a hurry, leaving their rental.

And those initial eviction filings are still very much a part of the problem. Jeff Biehl, executive director of the Prevent Family Homelessness Collaborative, noted there’s no way to strike one from a record even if it’s withdrawn, making it harder to find housing in the future.

“You will often hear people who are evicted don’t necessarily go to homelessness, but a lot of families that end up homeless have evictions in their background,” he said. “It really makes it difficult for families to get housing.”

Earlier this year, a group of analysts from around the country called these permanent-mark policies “absolutely ridiculous” and recommended they be taken off the city’s books “immediately.”

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Columbus City Councilwoman Jaiza Page talks about affordable housing initiatives at a Columbus Business First event.

One class at a time

In the meantime, education and prevention efforts have to take place at the grassroots level, with groups like Salter’s holding workshops with a few dozen people at a time to educate them about their rights and responsibilities.

Keeping cool, communicating, and working with the landlord are key, Salter said, and all too often a lack of these things makes the process more difficult.

 

Columbus City Councilwoman Jaiza Page, working with Legal Aid Society of Columbus and Columbus Next Generation, has held a series of workshops to inform landlords and tenants about rental assistance programs, tenant rights and escrow services. The city is exploring how to update its policies, too.

“There are few things we’re looking at, like retaliatory evictions,” Page said via phone. For example, the city might “beef up our tenant code to provide prosecution for landlords who evict tenants who complain about code violations.”

But the main push has been informing tenants and landlords alike about emergency rental assistance and other resources, as well as the letter of the law on how an eviction works, Page said.

Shelley Whalen, executive director of Community Mediation Services, said virtually all of these filings stem from late or non-payment of rent. The group intervenes to help the two parties work out an agreement, or if necessary, a move-out plan.

“I can tell you, roughly 80 percent of the time, we’re able to help the tenant and landlord reach an agreement, and of those, about half are pay and stay and half are move out,” she said via phone.

Many, but not all, landlords are willing to negotiate, she said, especially if a tenant has been living in a space for more than a year and has a good track record.

Education at the front end has been far more successful in fighting the tide of evictions rather than trying to get involved once court proceedings begin, local experts said. That’s because the legal system is fraught with unfamiliar obstacles.

“The vast majority of landlords are represented by legal counsel at court, and almost 90 percent of tenants are not,” Whalen said. “There’s a definite lack of understanding on the part of tenants – they don’t know the process or the language. That’s part of what we try to do in the workshop.”

After his course is finished, Salter awards each of the women a certificate, a handshake and a friendly “Good luck! Pay your rent!”

“It’s up to us to keep our housing because this city is changing,” Salter said, his near-constant smile dimming a bit. “Columbus has too many resources to see you in evictions court.”

Cleveland not yet enforcing lead cleanup, legal action gets results elsewhere

CLEVELAND, Ohio–Now that hundreds of Cleveland property owners and tenants have received orders to vacate homes deemed dangerous due to unaddressed lead hazards, many are asking: What happens next?

It’s a question city officials are still working through, too.

In some Ohio cities over the past year, health officials have started sending some, or all such cases to court for potential legal action, and say they’re seeing results. Problematic homes, some that posed a threat to public health for years, are being cleaned up.

Cleveland, which has been reluctant to follow state law and issue orders to vacate due to concerns about displacing residents, has not yet taken any of its recent non-compliant property owners to court.

The city, through a spokeswoman, said that it will “work with the Law Department to determine the best course of action for each noncompliant property.”

 

Read the rest of the story at Cleveland.com

Jack D’Aurora: State budget should support legal aid

Is access to legal assistance for low-income Americans important? President Donald Trump doesn’t think so. His 2018 budget proposed eliminating the Legal Services Corporation, an independent nonprofit established during the Nixon administration that provides civil legal aid to low-income Americans.

Trump apparently forgot about his campaign theme — “to bring hope to every forgotten stretch of this country.” According to Martha Bergmark, former LSC president, the majority of the states with the lowest ranking for access to legal assistance for low-income citizens supported Trump.

Fortunately, most of Congress didn’t listen to the president. In fact, Congress went a different direction and increased LSC funding in March from $385 million to $410 million.

Across the country, legal-aid offices serve the needs of those whose incomes are below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $30,740 a year. Roughly 1.5 million Ohioans fall in this category. In 2016, the 28 lawyers and staff members at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, along with several hundred pro bono attorneys and non-lawyer volunteers, served 6,609 low-income individuals and families.

It’s probably difficult to imagine why those with low incomes would need a lawyer, but low income, in and of itself, generates problems. Seventy-one percent of low-income households have experienced a legal problem in the past year. For households with disabled persons, the percentage jumps to 80 percent; for households with survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, it jumps to 97 percent. One in four low-income households has experienced six or more legal problems in the past year.

“When living on the edge, one problem begets another,” explains Tom Weeks, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. “Get injured on the job without health insurance or workers compensation, and suddenly you’re faced with hospital bills. Because you’re unable to work, you can’t afford to repay the auto title loan you took out for repair work, and you don’t have money for next month’s rent.

“You can afford to pay the lender or the landlord but not both. Eventually, the hospital files suit to collect on its unpaid bills. The lender and landlord will be next. It can be overwhelming.”

What’s staggering is that intimate-partner violence among people with family income at or below the FPL is about four times the rate for those with incomes at or above 400 percent of the FPL. “Twenty-two percent of legal aid work is family law,” says Angie Lloyd, executive director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. “But it’s actually all domestic-violence-related, so we’re only meeting part of the domestic legal need.”

Legal aid isn’t just about providing assistance. “It’s transformative work,” says Lloyd, “that allows low-income and vulnerable Ohioans to be gainfully employed, financially secure, stably housed, healthy and safe from domestic violence.”

The Access to Justice Task Force formed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court concluded there is a 115-percent return for every dollar invested in legal aid. Studies consistently show that investing in civil legal-aid programs has a positive economic impact.

Even if LSC funding continues in the future, it’s not enough. LSC provides only about 30 percent of the budget for Ohio’s legal-aid offices. Another 40 percent comes from a surcharge on court filing fees and the interest earned on lawyer trust accounts, and that money has been decreasing. With interest rates dropping over the years, revenues from trust accounts fell from $22 million in 2007 to $4 million today.

Remarkably, the state of Ohio contributes nothing to legal aid. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force recommended in 2015 that the Ohio General Assembly fund the cost of the 120 legal-aid attorneys and support staff who were laid off because of declining funds.

Three years later, we’re still waiting for the General Assembly to respond.

Jack D’Aurora is a partner with the Behal Law Group.

Read this article at the Columbus Dispatch

Ohio Seeks to Impose New Medicaid Work Requirements, Tempting Lawsuits

On Monday night, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) officially submitted a request to the Department of Health and Human Services for permission to force the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion to prove they’re working at least 80 hours per month. If the waiver is approved, Ohioans unable to find work would have to get placed with an organization in their county and work without pay to earn the value of their health care benefits.

Ohio’s non-profit Center for Health Affairs estimates that 18,000 people could lose  coverage due to the requirement, though advocacy groups say that number could be much higher if eligible people are deterred by the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to document their employment status or prove they’re exempt due to a disability.

“We believe they’re vastly underestimating,” Katie McGarvey with the Legal Aid Society of Ohio told TPM. “There’s not an automatic way to do those exemptions, so each county will have to contact each individual, get documentation, and do an assessment. What if the person doesn’t get the mail or doesn’t have transportation to the appointment? It’s a huge administrative barrier and a lot of people who need the exemption and are eligible will fall through the cracks.”

Read the rest of this story at Talking Points Memo

Franklin County Struggles To Overcome High Number Of Evictions

Jerry Smith wanders through a home on the west side of Columbus with his hands clasped behind his back. His hat says “bailiff” in big block letters, and he’s guiding researcher Stephanie Pierce from room to room. They pass an overturned couch and old clothes strewn on the floor.

“Wow, so there’s a lot of stuff here,” Pierce says, looking around the dining room. “It definitely looks like it’s been a pretty hasty departure.”

“Probably about 50 percent are left in this condition, about 50 percent,” Smith tells her. “You rarely ever get one that’s cleaned out and pristine or anything. Occasionally—but rarely.”

If the eviction process cannot be resolved, this is where it winds up: a set out. Under the supervision of a bailiff, the landlord clears out a tenant’s remaining belongings and retakes possession of the home.

No one wants to end up here. Evictions are expensive for landlords, and they miss out on rent in the meantime. Tenants have to move on short notice, and a past eviction can make it hard to find a new place to stay.

Read or listen to the entire story at WOSU Radio.

Sent to the curb: Affordable housing advocates say evictions can have lasting effects on tenants, neighborhoods

There were nearly 18,000 in Franklin County filed last year, a number that continues to trouble affordable housing advocates and others who note that the poverty rate here continues to tick upward. In all, about 10,500 evictions were completed in 2017. In New York City, whose population is eight times as large, there were 22,000.

Read the full story at Business First

 

Melissa Linville Receives the 2018 Henry J. Sommer Scholarship

Krista D’Amelio | Latest News | March 14, 2018

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) is honored to award the prestigious Henry J. Sommer Scholarship every year to an exceptional attorney who shows the same dedication of service to their clients that President Emeritus Henry J. Sommer (2005 to 2008 and Board of Directors member 1992 to 2011) gave to NACBA. This year NACBA is pleased to announce that Melissa Linville is the recipient for the 2018 Henry J. Somm er Scholarship.

Melissa LinvilleMelissa is a bankruptcy attorney at The Legal Aid Society of Columbus in Ohio and has been working in this role since 2012. She coordinates the Bankruptcy Pro Bono program and represents clients in-house. As the recipient of the scholarship, she will be attending #NACBADEN, NACBA’s Annual Convention held April 19-22, 2018 in Denver, CO. Melissa was chosen for her dedication to processing intake clients and recruiting and training pro bono attorneys for LASC cases, as well as her assistance to clients in filing Chapter 7 bankruptcies, foreclosure defense, debt collection defense, and other bankruptcy matters.

“This scholarship is one that NACBA is proud to award every year. We are pleased to select Melissa Linville for the 2018 Henry J. Sommer Scholarship. We look forward to providing her the opportunity to enhance her profession in the public sector and connect her to NACBA’s vast network of consumer bankruptcy attorneys,” says NACBA Executive Director Dan LaBert.

Melissa graduated from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2011. She has always wanted to work in the public sector. After three and a half years of piecing together various legal fellowships while working on the implementation and maintenance of a bankruptcy pro bono program, Melissa became a staff attorney at Legal Aid in 2015. She enjoys working with the private bar and judiciary to continue to improve and grow the bankruptcy pro bono program.

We can look forward to reading about Melissa’s convention experience in the Summer 2018 edition of NACBA’s Consumer Bankruptcy Journal.

#NACBADEN
Read the original post at NACBA

Franklin County has the highest eviction rate in Ohio. Why? And what can be done about it?

When Stacy Dellibovi arrived at eviction court on a Friday morning in early February, she felt like a failure.

Everything had gone downhill so quickly. A few months earlier, the 40-year-old single mom had been employed as a phlebotomist and support technician at CompDrug, an addiction treatment center. Drawing blood and overseeing urine screenings was gritty, challenging work, but Dellibovi loved it. She relished being a positive presence in the lives of those struggling with addiction. For the first time in her life, she woke up every morning excited to go to work.

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, she lost her job. Dellibovi scrambled to look for another job, spending day after day on the computer filling out applications and redoing her resume. But nothing came quickly. Pretty soon she couldn’t make her car payments, and she fell behind on the $1,395 rent for the Canal Winchester home she shared with her two youngest kids, 8 and 13. She lost her brand-new car, and now she was facing an eviction.

Read more at Columbus Alive

 

Human Trafficking: Ohio’s Current Landscape

By Tabitha Woodruff

 January has been designated National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month since former President Barack Obama first proclaimed it in 2010. In December 2017, President Donald Trump continued the tradition with his own proclamation making January 2018 a month dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking.

In Ohio, grassroots efforts have grown into extensive government action addressing this issue. Here, I will discuss the legal landscape of human trafficking in Ohio, the challenges the state still faces and the legal resources available to trafficking survivors.

MODERN DAY SLAVERY

Human trafficking is the illegal ownership and sale of human beings; in modern times it takes many different forms.

Read more at Attorney At Law Magazine

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