The coronavirus pandemic and economic impacts brought with it another struggle for many Clevelanders: Housing evictions.
While the Centers for Disease Control put eviction moratoriums in place during the height of the pandemic, as those moratoriums were lifted in October 2021 many Clevelanders struggled with rent and other housing issues.
Cleveland Housing Court—one of the busiest single-judge courts in Ohio with one judge and seven magistrates—saw 591 evictions in 2021 and 691 in 2020. Housing Court saw 1,730 evictions in 2018 and 1,720 in 2019; and last year referred 560 cases to the Legal Aid Society for its Right to Counsel program; and used mediation to resolve 706 eviction cases in 2021.
Cleveland Housing Court administrative judge W. Moná Scott saw the large number of evictions and court cases during a time when in-person hearings couldn’t be held safely.
Aaron Mason, Director of Special Projects with Judge ScottSo, at the beginning of the pandemic Scott had kiosks installed on the third and 13th floors of the court to allow respondents to appear safely and remotely with Zoom. Scott says she also wanted to ensure that people without wireless access could also use the remote option.
“It’s really designed for individuals who don’t have Zoom, who don’t have personal computers, laptops, or phones,” she explains. “We hope to reach these individuals who don’t have access because of the digital divide.”
The installation of the Housing Court kiosks was successful, with 1,012 defendants using the court’s third-floor virtual kiosk and 112 defendants used the 13th-floor virtual laptop computer kiosk in 2021.
But Scott and other court officials realize it’s not easy for people to take time to appear in court and travel to and from the Justice Center. “We want to make it easier for the public to attend hearings,” she says, adding that people often miss their eviction hearings because of transportation issues and work obligations.
So, the Housing Court partnered with the Cleveland Public Library to install private Neighborhood Housing Court Kiosks at four CPL locations throughout the city.
A total of four Housing Court kiosks will be installed at CPL branches that have the most need. The equipment was purchased with a 2021 $15,500 Ohio Supreme Court Technology Grant.
Assembling the kiosksThe first kiosk will open Monday, July 18 at the CPL South Branch location, 3096 Scranton Road in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. Scott, CPL executive director and CEO Felton Thomas Jr., Ward 14 councilwoman Jasmin Santana, and other dignitaries will be in attendance to celebrate the first installment.
Scott says the kiosk program will eventually spread to the CPL’s Mount Pleasant, Carnegie West, and Glenville branches—because these neighborhoods have some of the highest eviction rates in the city.
Aaron Mason, director of special project for CPL, says the Housing Court kiosk project fits easily with the library’s history of being the “people’s university” and serving the needs of the community. The library also offers free after school snacks and lunches to students, and provides legal services and computer access to patrons, so he says hosting the kiosks was a natural fit.
“This is the next step in the trajectory,” Mason says. “Judge Moná Scott reached out to us and said, ‘would you be interested in hosting virtual court in your locations,’ we were all-in. The library is a natural place where people feel much more comfortable sharing their private matters.”
Additionally, Mason says the library often is a safe space for adults to bring their children, and it can me more convenient than doing downtown to the Justice Center. “It can be intimidating going downtown,” he says. “And there are barriers—transportation costs and having children with you with no childcare. We have a team of children’s librarians to take care of the kids.”
Mason says the kiosks will be dubbed Innovation Labs and construction should being within the next couple of months when renovations are completed. “Our desire it to improve access for all of our patrons,” he says. “For us, it’s about meeting people where they are.”