Northern Ohio Community Legal Aid received a Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant totaling $180,764 to expand a program helping low-income Mahoning County residents with foreclosure or debt issues.
The price is part of a Legal Services Corporation expense. The funding will arrive this fall, according to Rachel Nader, director of advocacy with Community Legal Aid, an eight-county nonprofit that provides free or free legal advice.
“Meeting the broad legal needs of low-income Americans is a difficult task for resource-constrained legal aid providers,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “Engaging lawyers and pro bono volunteers adds a powerful network that multiplies the impact of these organizations.”
Community Legal Aid received a similar grant totaling $267,000 in 2019 to establish the Clarence Darrow Clinic, which is operated through a partnership between Community Legal Aid, the seven Trumbull County Courts and the Trumbull County Bar Association.
Officials said this 2022 grant will also expand the clinic’s Trumbull operations, which has reduced the number of unprepared defendants in housing and consumer cases and increased the number of pro bono appearances countywide, as well as expanding the clinic model in Mahoning County, according to legal aid officials.
“We’re at a great time to help customers preserve their homes,” Nader said.
Common Pleas Judge Andrew D. Logan was instrumental in implementing a mediation program during the 2008-09 foreclosures crisis, in which more than 10% of homes (over 200) saved in were located in Trumbull County with funding from the state government.
Logan also helped start the Darrow Clinic, Nader said, noting local judges were determined not to let the banks in and see these abandoned homes.
Now, Community Legal Aid will match its recent grant to expand services at Trumbull County’s Darrow Clinic south.
“We’ve seen people struggling with foreclosures and credit card debt, and we want to have a clinic to help them,” Nader said. “There are a lot of selfless lawyers out there who want to give back.”
Nader said the expansion of the Darrow Clinic model into Mahoning County seemed like a perfect fit.
“We are brother counties. Our residents seem to have the same economic problems,” Nader said.
THE MAHONING JUDGES ARE IN
Youngstown City Judge Carla Baldwin and Mahoning County Court Administrative Judge Joseph H. Houser agreed to participate in a Darrow Clinic model for their county. Legal aid representatives will meet with them to set up a model clinic there by Oct. 1, Nader said.
“We look forward to working with our partners in Mahoning County to ensure families get the legal help they need when facing housing and consumer debt issues,” said Jodi Roberts. , Head of Communications and Development at Legal Aid.
The Darrow Clinic planned to operate three days a week from the old stone building on High Street NW in Warren, but the COVID-19 pandemic had quashed those expectations. Those on court docket with housing issues now have a virtual format to receive help.
“Due to the pandemic, lawyers are finding it easier to volunteer their time by talking on the phone from their office or home,” Nader said. “It actually increased the time they were able to give.”
Nader said those interested in obtaining Darrow Clinic services can call 330-983-2584 or apply online at www.communitylegalaid.org/apply.
Since its launch in February 2020, the Darrow Clinic has helped 833 clients with 970 housing and consumer debt issues, Roberts said.
“We have a panel of 18 dedicated volunteers who actively participated throughout the clinic period,” Roberts said. “Many of these volunteers will continue to help as the clinic expands throughout Mahoning County.”
A national lawmaker takes note of the work being done to save the area’s low-income residents and homeowners.
“The amount of money you earn shouldn’t determine whether you have fair representation in court,” said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain. “These funds … will help ensure that all Ohioans have the representation they need to protect their rights against debt collectors, banks and landlords trying to evict them.”