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Detroit City Council is urging the statewide housing authority responsible for administering millions of dollars in emergency rent aid to speed up the application process in Wayne County, where it can take approximately 90 days to get funds approved. 

Meanwhile, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA, says it has hired staff to process Detroit applications and added another agency in Wayne County to help handle the volume. 

Wayne County accounts for about a third of the applications that have come into the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, according to MSHDA, which runs the program. Detroit accounts for 19% of all applications. 

The resolution, from Council President Mary Sheffield, was approved Tuesday and says the volume of applications in Wayne County demonstrates the need for rent aid dollars necessary to keep people in their homes and avoid eviction. 

MSHDA communications director Katie Bach said the agency “shares the sense of urgency reflected in the resolution.”

“MSHDA has communicated with our Detroit grantee, their sub-grantees and City of Detroit staff about the need to increase capacity within their system and process applications faster. We have dedicated program support specifically for Detroit grantees in an effort to expedite processing,” Bach said in an email. 

MSHDA has provided $277.8 million in emergency rental assistance dollars in Detroit, she said. 

Ted Phillips, executive director of the Detroit-based United Community Housing Coalition, which handles applications where the tenant may be at risk of eviction, cautioned that thoroughness — rather than speed — is important when it comes to keeping people in their homes and getting aid. 

“We need to be careful,” Phillips said. “We need to make sure that we’re dealing with court cases and making sure that the cases are resolved. We need to make sure that if people have repair issues that we’re … trying to at least address those repair issues. We need to make sure … if there’s potential scams going on. Things take time for a reason.” 

Detroit is unique because of the sheer number of applications, the eviction cases that come through the court system and the nature of housing concerns tenants have, he said. 

“When you say Oakland County is processing cases faster or in Ann Arbor, you could get it quicker, well, you’re not dealing with the same volume, you’re not dealing with the same problems,” Phillips said. 

Wayne County continues to see the largest volume of applications in the state, Courtney Hierlihy, CERA director for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, said in a Tuesday statement. In Detroit, the agency is “working each week to increase the number of applications approved” and is dealing with getting rid of duplications to get an accurate count.

“We appreciate council pushing to get CERA funding in the hands of more residents and landlords in Detroit. More than $132 million in rental assistance funds have been approved in the 13 months since CERA has launched, and that number constitutes a huge volume of work,” Julie Schneider, director of the city of Detroit’s housing and revitalization department, said in a statement. She said the city is working with partners to accelerate the process.

What the numbers say 

As of Tuesday, Wayne County falls behind neighboring counties with the number of applications it had approved: 28,764 out of 74,704 applications, or about 39%, according to an MSHDA dashboard. Macomb County had approved about 44% of its applications. Meanwhile, Oakland County had earmarked payments to just over half of its applicants.

Both counties have a fraction of the total applications Wayne County is handling.

The county has “processed” — meaning a person has either been accepted or denied — about 55% of applications. 

In Wayne County, it can take approximately 90 days for applications to get approved. In other counties, it can take anywhere from 17 to 80 days. 

Across the state, 120,559 out of 237,469 — or about 51% — applications for rental and utility assistance were approved as of Tuesday. So far, Michigan has processed about 76% of applications.

About $683.5 million in rent and utilities assistance has been spent so far in Michigan. Wayne County alone has spent $219 million. That’s out of roughly $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief funds the state has received. A household, on average, is getting $5,670. More than 140,700 people have received the help. 

Meanwhile, more than 45,000 applications are still “under review” across the state, meaning a caseworker is looking into it or has not gotten to it yet. More than 26,000 applications in Wayne County are in this stage. 

“MSHDA has hired staff that are dedicated to processing Detroit applications,” Bach said. 

Currently, there are three agencies in Wayne County working on rent aid, she said. In early 2022, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan joined to help speed things up. 

The CERA program, which has been running since last March, is expected to stop taking new applications in June although applications will continue to process until funds are exhausted, Bach said. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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