The economic impact of the past few years has disproportionately affected renters across the country. In the second half of 2021—when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its pandemic-era eviction moratorium—rents rose at an unprecedented pace, with typical asking rents rising 11% year over year nationwide that September, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
As rental markets tightened and demand soared, people around the country struggled to keep up. Residents in Cleveland were no exception. To help respond to evictions and other housing issues, Cleveland Housing Court installed videoconferencing kiosks—first in the courthouse, when in-person hearings couldn’t be held safely, then later at Cleveland Public Library, to make it more accessible for the public to attend hearings.
In Cleveland, the struggle for affordable housing has been a pressing issue affecting the lives of many individual residents and families. Since May 2020, when Cleveland Housing Court’s pandemic-related pause on the processing of nonemergency evictions ended, more than 18,200 evictions were filed in the city, according to researchers at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. As of November 2023, the city’s eviction filing rate was 6%, or nearly 6,600 filings over the past 12 months.
To help address this urgent community issue, in July 2022, Cleveland Public Library (CPL) opened our first Neighborhood Housing Court kiosk at the South branch, in partnership with Cleveland Housing Court. Kiosks are available by registration or on a walk-in basis for individuals who need to appear before the court and need a more convenient hearing location. Now with four kiosks that offer private videoconferencing at branches around the city, CPL is successfully bringing the court to the community.
Kiosk locations were selected based on eviction rate data. Having them available at our branches has removed barriers for residents, many of whom were unable to travel to the courthouse downtown for various reasons to meet their court date.
Cleveland Housing Court Administrative Judge W. Moná Scott said she wanted to make it easier for the public to attend hearings and decrease the number of no-shows resulting from lack of transportation or childcare, or fear of missing work. Since the launch of the first kiosk, bailiffs’ sign-in sheets have registered dozens of users.
By partnering with the library, the court system sends a powerful message to the community: We are here to help, not to intimidate.
Cleveland Housing Court purchased the computer kiosk equipment using a 2021 technology grant of $15,500 from the Ohio Supreme Court. In addition to our South branch, kiosks were added to our Mount Pleasant, Carnegie West, and Hough branches during 2023.
Kiosks complement other legal assistance offered at CPL. Patrons with civil legal issues can register for free advice clinics at the library through a partnership we have with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Its Brief Advice and Referral Clinic allows the public to chat with an attorney about a problem related to money, housing, family, and employment.
We also partner with LegalWorks, a local nonprofit that provides legal consultation and assistance for qualified, low-income youth and adults in underserved communities. Patrons can make an appointment at one of several branches for legal assistance that could help them move forward in their lives. Assistance could include navigating such topics as expungements, sealing records, obtaining certificates of qualified employment, clearing outstanding warrants, restoring driving privileges, and other matters.
CPL can be a bridge between justice and accessibility, providing vital resources to our neighborhoods. By working with partners, we can make a brighter and more just future for all.