Anticipating a surge of eviction cases, the City of Detroit is boosting legal representation for tenants at risk of losing their homes.
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The move is part of a new three-pronged eviction prevention program, which includes offering free legal counsel for tenants in court, federal dollars for past due rent and utilities and a chance to find a job through a city program, Mayor Mike Duggan announced during a press briefing Friday.
The new program comes three weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a federal moratorium on residential eviction and as writs of evictions resumed last week in 36th District Court.
Ashley Lowe, CEO of Lakeshore Legal Aid, said legal representation in a similar program last fall allowed 97% of tenants to remain in their homes.
Lowe said the most important thing to do now is to show up to virtual court where attorneys from Lakeshore Legal Aid, United Community Housing Coalition and Michigan Legal Services can represent and advise tenants free of charge.
“We can’t do anything if you don’t appear in court,” Lowe said.
Following the Supreme Court decision to lift the federal moratorium on eviction, the 36th District Court announced that nonpayment of rent cases would resume immediately.
Last week, the court began issuing writs of eviction again and the city expects a dramatic increase in the number of eviction orders in the next two to four weeks, Duggan said.
To keep up with a surge, the city is recruiting attorneys to provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction, he said. They will be paid $350 per closed case. Attorneys can apply at www.detroitevictionhelp.org.
“We don’t want vacant houses. We don’t want families having to look for houses in the middle of COVID,” Duggan said.
Alongside the legal help, the city has $130 million in federal COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance, or CERA, dollars. It’s part of $622 million allocated to the state of Michigan to help stave off a wave of evictions by helping tenants with back rent, future rent and utilities.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t pay rent for a long time and that’s built up quite in arrears. That’s enormous pressure on landlords who still have their bills to pay,” Duggan said.
Qualification for CERA funding is based on income and demonstrating COVID-19 hardship. To be eligible, a family of four must earn less than $62,000 a year and they must show that the pandemic hit them hard financially. That may look like reduced income or greater expenses. People don’t have to have an active court case to apply.
Landlords may also apply for this funding. In Detroit, in order to get full CERA funding, landlords must demonstrate that properties are up to code by having a rental certificate and certificate of compliance. In a news release Friday, the city said 36th District Court would not proceed with certain evictions if the property did not have a certificate of compliance.
Detroit alone accounts for a quarter of applications to the statewide CERA program that launched earlier this year, the Michigan State Housing Authority — the agency responsible for allocating millions of dollars in federal rent and utility aid through housing agencies — said Friday.
Roughly a quarter of the the 20,776 applications in Detroit have been paid out and the average processing time is 90 days, said Katie Bach, MSHDA communications director.
However, she said United Community Housing Coalition and 36th District Court are prioritizing applications where a tenant is facing eviction. If tenants are going through an eviction and have applied for CERA, their cases are adjourned for least 45 days.
The third part of the new eviction prevention program involves placing renters facing eviction at the “front of the line” for jobs through the city’s Detroit at Work program.
“We know that employment is going to be a critical component to Detroiters being able to stay in their homes,” said Dana Williams, chief of staff for workforce development.
More than a year into the pandemic, rent remains one of the top pandemic-related reasons people call the United Way’s 211 service, a statewide dashboard shows.
Between Aug. 18 and Aug. 30, more than 100,000 people in Detroit, Warren and Dearborn said they could face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
How to get help:
- For legal help and more information on the CERA program go to detroitevictionhelp.org or 866-313-2520. Attorneys will be available at virtual court hearings. Tenants at the writ stage of an eviction case can also call the United Community Housing Coalition’s writ line at 313-725-4559.
- People facing eviction and looking for a job through the Detroit at Work program can also go to detroitevictionhelp.org or call 313-962-WORK (9675).
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. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.