COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus is facing what one attorney called “record-level” eviction filings seven months into the year, with close to 12,000 cases filed from January to June, and city officials are looking at a range of solutions to housing woes.
Columbus City Council voted Monday to give $1.5 million to the Tenant Advocacy Project, which offers tenants legal counsel while they navigate an eviction filing. It’s the largest single-year sum the city has awarded the project so far. From 2019 to 2022, council voted on $1.6 million total in funding.
Each year, that award amount increased as the caseload taken on by local eviction lawyers simultaneously rose, said Legal Aid Society attorney Jyoshu Tsushima.
Program offers free legal counsel on eviction filings
The newest round of funding will enable those with the Tenant Advocacy Project, which has consistently seen high-level demand, to serve more people, Tsushima said.
“I can’t do 18,000 eviction cases a year. I would lose my mind,” Tsushima said. “There has always been the reality that we can only do so much with the number of attorneys that we have.”
The Tenant Advocacy Project went from “half a joke” to a grant proposal to a full-fledged program offering Columbus renters free legal assistance in just a few years. But before 2017, Tsushima said most tenants encountered little in the way of aid at eviction court.
“It was always just the landlords and their attorneys,” he said. “They had essentially been dictating the narrative at court about how evictions should be run.”
The program started small, through a free advice table at the Franklin County courts. As it has grown, Tsushima said it works to both provide representation for individual tenants and educate the court more generally about tenants’ rights.
Evictions in Columbus on the rise
Year-over-year, landlords have filed 23% more evictions in the first half of 2023 than in 2022, according to Franklin County Municipal Court data. If the city stays on that trajectory, it could see around 24,000 by the year’s end, according to Tsushima.
The pandemic and economic pressures connected to it, in some ways, have come and gone. But evictions haven’t stabilized, and that’s due to a number of factors. As central Ohio — including investors and property managers — prepare for a population boom, some residents already here are becoming less able to afford it, Tsushima said.
“We’re seeing a lot of people just move to other neighborhoods where it’s more affordable, they’re having to move into properties that are not as well maintained,” he said.
The highest numbers of eviction filings aren’t isolated to one area. During the first half of the year, the Far East Side, Far West Side, and Whitehall saw the most eviction filings, according to data.
Council eyeing additional housing legislation
In their last meeting ahead of a summer recess, councilmembers passed several other pieces of housing-related legislation — two of which included an ordinance that requires landlords to allow third-party rental payments and a “pay-to-stay” ordinance that nullifies nonpayment eviction lawsuits if a tenant pays their owed rent prior to a judge deciding on the case.
After the break, Councilmember Shayla Favor said the council’s work is not done when it comes to housing issues. “You will see this council, once again, being laser-focused on bringing new solutions to address our crisis,” she said.
Ideas still under consideration range from rental, vacancy and foreclosure registries to piloting an accessory dwelling unit program.