YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio has a big problem with evictions, and a local housing summit aims to address some of the issues leading to those evictions.

The Mahoning Valley Eviction Prevention Summit on April 20 is hosted by Community Legal Aid, along with its partner organizations like the Youngstown Municipal Court. The featured speaker is Dr. Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author behind the book “Evicted,” as well as the founder of In March, Desmond released another book titled, “Poverty, By America.”

“Eviction causes violence, it causes homelessness, it causes poverty, and it’s something that we can address. There are all sorts of practical and very effective solutions to making sure families have a safe, affordable place to live,” Desmond said.

John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for Right to Counsel, will also participate in the discussion, and there will be panel presentations and community round table discussions.

Panel topics include:

  • Trench Warfare: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic and the Challenges that Remain
  • The Intersection of Health, Education and Housing
  • The Rule of Housing Law and,
  • Innovative Solutions to Improving Access to Housing and Affordable Housing Stock

Steven McGarrity, executive director of Community Legal Aid, said the summit is an opportunity to bring together everyone who has an interest in the quality of housing in the local community.

“If you go to eviction court and watch the number of people being evicted, if you drive through our neighborhoods and see the low quality of housing that many of our neighbors live in, the eviction summit is really an opportunity for us to get together and try to identify solutions to that problem so that moving forward, we can all thrive together,” he said.

Ohio ranks ninth in the nation when it comes to evictions, with 11% of renters finding themselves at risk of losing their homes. In the Mahoning Valley, both Warren (77th) and Youngstown (91st) make the list of the top 100 mid-size cities with high eviction rates, according to Community Legal Aid.

In addition, a large portion of the population are renters — 32% in Mahoning County and 31% in Trumbull County, according to Community Legal Aid.

McGarrity said, unlike home ownership, it is very easy to evict a renter.

“So if someone misses a single rent payment, then under Ohio law, the landlord has a right to initiate an eviction action,” he said.

The Mahoning Valley Eviction Prevention Summit is modeled on a successful event that was held in the city of Akron. Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Carla Baldwin attended the event and came back thinking that there should be a local equivalent.

“We were amazed at what we saw, which was, even though we’re in Youngstown and we have a slightly different community, we’re all facing the same problem,” she said.

Baldwin said Desmond put a face to the case numbers of those who are evicted.

“He brought us into their homes, and he shared with us their pain and said how we have to be intentional about what we do because we’re not just processing a case. We’re not just addressing an address, but we are fundamentally impacting individual lives, including those with families of children,” she said.

Desmond said poverty, violence and evictions are all a part of a bigger cycle.

“I saw grandmas living without heat throughout the winter, just staying under blankets and hoping the space heaters didn’t go out… We came across this house and it was just kids living there, the mom had died… And the sheriff evicted the kids, they put all their stuff out on the curb,” Desmond said.

McGarrity said there were several solutions implemented after the Akron event, and he hopes the local event will spur some change locally.

Following the event, Judge Baldwin, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and other community leaders will lead a community discussion on the issue.

The Mahoning Valley Eviction Prevention Summit will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at the Eastwood Event Centre in Niles. Tickets are $50 and include breakfast and lunch. They can be purchased on Community Legal Aid’s website by April 15.

The Mahoning County Board of Commissioners Thursday proclaimed next week “Eviction Prevention Week” in recognition of the issue and the upcoming summit.

“It’s something that’s progressively getting worse. We really saw it as a problem in 2020. There was an eviction moratorium and then a lot of stuff was on hold. Then, we saw a huge rate in landlords evicting people,” said Colleen Kosta, with the Homeless Continuum of Care.

Gerry Ricciutti contributed to this report.