AKRON, Ohio — The city of Akron see’s around 300 evictions each month. This is an issue that Steven McGarrity, the executive director of Community Legal Aid in Akron, called a crisis.
“Housing is everything," he said. "Without a home you don’t have a school to go to, you don’t have a place to leave to go to work. It’s very hard to have a job if you are living out of your car or in a homeless shelter. It is so disruptive to the day-to-day life of a community when people are constantly shifting and moving and being forced out. If you look around at some of our neighborhoods, you will see the effect on it.”
Half of Akron’s population are renters, and the city has the highest eviction rate in the state.
McGarrity said the number one reason people get evicted is because they are late paying their rent.
According to Ohio law, if a tenant is late on rent, even just by one day, a landlord can file for evection.
“So many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck now that the loss of income for a short period of time can easily lead to an eviction,” he said. “Cost of rent is going up. Landlords sometimes have an incentive to evict a particular tenant who is paying lower rent because they can bring in a higher paying tenant.”
During the pandemic, the number of evictions dropped significantly in the city, thanks to rental assistance dollars. McGarrity said that number is already on the rise and he expects the upward trend to continue.
“We think there is a backlog of evictions that are coming because of the loss of rental assistance dollars,” McGarrity said. “So we are at or just below pre-pandemic levels of eviction filings and they are just continuing to rise every month.”
He said the right to council, which would give tenants access to an attorney for eviction court, would help fix this crisis in Akron.
The city of Cleveland already has a right to council process in place, and McGarrity said it has significantly reduced the number of evictions that are granted.
“You don’t need to have money to have access to the police, you don’t need to have money to have access to fire services, but we have set up a system that in order to have access to the court system, meaningful access to the court system, you have to have money to hire a lawyer,” he said. “Right to council makes sure that people facing evictions have actual access to the court system and they are not just going by themselves and winging it, which more often than not would result in them being evicted.”
It’s McGarrity’s hope that the city of Akron will follow Cleveland's lead and establish a right to council process.
“We are hopeful that will happen," he said. "The city has said they support right to council. We are still waiting to see what that means.”
Community legal aid hosts a weekly Zoom class for people facing eviction.