Rocket Community Fund Invests $1.25 Million to Launch Cleveland Eviction Defense Fund in Partnership with Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
- Five-year investment strengthens Cleveland’s Right to Counsel resources.
- Rocket Community Fund also released findings from its Cleveland Neighbor to Neighbor report, which underscores need for rental assistance.
CLEVELAND, Dec. 5, 2023 – The Rocket Community Fund and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland today announced a $1.25 million investment to create the Cleveland Eviction Defense Fund. This strategic partnership combats housing instability and displacement by providing comprehensive legal representation, advocacy and emergency rental assistance to Cleveland residents.
In 2019, Cleveland City Council passed legislation making access to legal representation in eviction cases a right for low-income families renting in Cleveland. In response, the United Way of Greater Cleveland and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland created the ‘Right to Counsel’ program in July 2020. The Rocket Community Fund’s commitment strengthens these efforts and ensures that more residents will have access to Right to Counsel resources.
“At the Rocket Community Fund, we believe in the transformative power of stable housing, which is a cornerstone for success in all aspects of life,” said Laura Grannemann, Executive Director of the Rocket Community Fund. “We are inspired by the success of Cleveland’s Right to Counsel program and are proud to strengthen it with the Cleveland Eviction Defense Fund.”
In addition to its financial commitment, the Rocket Community Fund will collaborate with the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to identify further opportunities for support aimed toward the long-term sustainability of the program. Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, who is committed to empowering neighborhoods and investing in housing, welcomed today’s announcement at an event held at the Cleveland Foundation.
“Many Cleveland residents who are at risk of eviction do not attend their eviction hearings,” said Mayor Justin Bibb. “This is just one example that highlights the critical need for education and outreach programs to raise awareness and aid to those facing eviction. I applaud the Rocket Community Fund and the Legal Aid Society for their unwavering dedication to supporting the residents of Cleveland.”
The Right to Counsel Process and Expanded Referral Support
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland leads the intake process for the Right to Counsel program, conducting eligibility screenings and providing legal representation to qualified tenants. Currently, residents must have a household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty limit ($29,160 for an individual, $60,000 for a family of four) to qualify. Eligible tenants will then access representation through staff attorneys, pro bono lawyers or private attorneys contracted by Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
“This support from Rocket Community Fund bolsters the current public-private partnership focused on housing stability, and will help us plan for long-term government sustainability of this important right,” said Colleen Cotter, executive director of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “Together, we can create a community in which all people experience dignity and justice, free from poverty and oppression.”
Rocket Community Fund’s Cleveland Eviction Defense Fund also strengthens the Legal Aid Society’s ability to expand its referral partner network and ensure residents can connect to other critical programs, such as emergency rental assistance through CHN Housing Partners.
CHN’s Housing Navigators will aid tenants in finding affordable housing, while supporting landlords in utilizing assistance tools. The Navigators will assist tenants with applications, financial aid and lease comprehension. CHN plans to fund security deposits and three months’ rent when needed. The partnership aims to serve 100 households in 2023, 310 in 2024 and an additional 260 in 2025.
Neighbor to Neighbor Report
The Rocket Community Fund’s commitment to rental assistance is based, in part, on findings from Neighbor to Neighbor, the organization’s flagship community outreach and engagement program. Neighbor to Neighbor, which first started in Detroit but now includes Cleveland, Milwaukee and Atlanta, is a door-to-door canvassing effort that helps deepen connections between local community development corporations (CDCs) and the residents they serve.
In 2022, Neighbor to Neighbor conducted a comprehensive survey across Cleveland to identify critical housing stability issues. Cleveland Neighborhood Progress led the effort, partnering with 17 local CDCs to ultimately connect with nearly 10,000 residents.
According to the Neighbor to Neighbor report, 19% of respondents reported difficulties paying rent, emphasizing the urgent need for initiatives like the Cleveland Eviction Defense Fund.
Additional findings included:
- Property Tax Concerns: 16% of homeowners said they had trouble paying property taxes, while 9% struggled with mortgage payments.
- Utility Challenges: Many respondents said they found utilities unaffordable with 28% concerned about water/sewer, 30% about electric utilities and 32% about gas.
Neighbor to Neighbor canvassers also collected data on Cleveland’s access to digital resources, including access to high-speed internet and digital devices. The report indicates 18% of residents lacked in-home broadband internet service, with the primary barriers being the cost of service and devices. Canvassers helped connect eligible residents to the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal program focused on providing low-cost internet and digital devices.
About Rocket Community Fund
The Rocket Community Fund aims to simplify complex and inequitable systems to ensure that every American has access to stable, healthy housing. It also invests in people and practices that provide meaningful opportunities for education and employment.
Through its For-More-Than-Profit model, the Rocket Community Fund recognizes that business and community are inextricably linked, and it purposefully harnesses team member talent, technology, policy advocacy and philanthropic resources to invest in comprehensive community development in Detroit and across the country.
Alongside financial investments, the Rocket Community Fund has organized Rocket Companies, Bedrock and other team members to provide more than one million volunteer hours nationwide, including more than 720,000 in Detroit.
For more information, visit RocketCommunityFund.org.
About Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s mission is to secure justice, equity, and access to opportunity for and with people who have low incomes through passionate legal representation and advocacy for systemic change. This mission centers on our vision for Northeast Ohio to be a place in which all people experience dignity and justice, free from poverty and oppression. Legal Aid Society of Cleveland uses the power of the law to improve safety and health, promote education and economic security, secure stable and decent housing, and improve accountability and accessibility of government and justice systems. By solving fundamental problems for those with low incomes, we remove barriers to opportunity and help people achieve greater stability. This leads to greater engagement in our community, which in turn fosters a vibrant society.