CLEVELAND, Ohio — Michael Anderson has called Cleveland his home all of his life. He says he has experienced a lot of things, and now he’s at risk of experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anderson, like many people across the country and in Northeast Ohio, are struggling with navigating the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s impacted our lives and changes from doing what we need to do to survive —that's eating and everything! Food has went up since the virus. We cannot find toilet paper or paper towels or bleach or nothing like that,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who is a Navy veteran, says unfortunately he has experienced homelessness before, but this time, he’s fighting not only to stay in his Euclid Beach-area apartment, but he feels like he is fighting for his life.
“If you get evicted, it's really hard. If a person gets evicted and you become homeless, you have to go downtown to the men's shelter on 2100, or the ladies shelter over on Payne. I got to shower down here, I got to sit down and eat, I got to sleep with these people. I can contract the disease that quick,” he said.
According to Evictionlab.org, a site that makes nationwide eviction data publicly available, over 57 percent of homes in Cleveland are rented and the current eviction rate in the city is over 4.5 percent. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is representing many tenants, including Anderson, who are caught in the eviction crisis which has been made worse by COVID-19.
“End of March, spanning through mid-June, we saw many courts closing down, you know, the majority of their work, including evictions, but we didn't see our work subside at all. The number of calls for people with housing issues stayed the same and then increased since then, so now we're at about 39 percent more calls average, in comparison to a year ago," said Abigail Staudt, of the Legal Aid society of Cleveland
Staudt is the managing attorney of the Housing Group for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. She says many tenants that end up getting evicted do so because they don’t know their rights.
“Defenses that tenants may have that they're not aware of. So, navigating that on one's own, which, you know, most tenants are doing, actually leaves them vulnerable for eviction, when maybe they had a great defense and they just didn't know it,” Staudt said.
In early September, the CDC issued a new order, effective through December 31, 2020, that provides protection from eviction to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Staudt says the order hasn’t stopped enough evictions from being filed, and adds that a temporary eviction moratorium won’t protect tenants long term.
“The halt of the eviction is great. Without sort of the companion part of rent assistance for those families and for those households, we are, we are gearing up for a very very difficult beginning of 2021. This is the time where we need our federal government to support the housing stability of, I don't know, 50 to 60 percent of our community,” she said.