eviction notice
Tenant advocates in Detroit say residents are struggling to find units. (Shutterstock)

A program where Detroiters are temporarily housed in hotels following an eviction, or other cases of housing instability, may wrap up by the end of next month for some residents.

That’s because federal emergency rent aid that is backing the stays has to be used up by June 30, according to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA.

Tenant advocates in Detroit say residents are struggling to find units. Meanwhile, housing providers and city officials say hotel residents have assigned case managers to help find rental units or shelter support, but are restricted by funding requirements. They say that the stays were meant to be as short as possible, as people secure permanent housing. 

“The hoteling program was set up as a way to try to prevent people from becoming homeless, who were in an often special circumstance — had been forced from their home,” in an illegal eviction, for instance, said Julie Schneider, director of the city’s housing and revitalization department during a Detroit City Council meeting on Tuesday. 

The program was temporarily created — for those who’ve been evicted or otherwise displaced — to fill in gaps where federal rent aid was not able to support them and includes case management as part of the hotel housing, Chelsea Neblett, a financial empowerment manager with the city’s department of neighborhoods, told the Free Press. 

The numbers fluctuate daily, as people exit and find housing, but there are about 100 to 120 people still in hotels, she said. Some already have plans to move out, while others are working with case managers. 

“Not all of those individuals are going to have until the last day, some have identified housing, they’re just waiting a week or two to be able to move and so it really is an individualized situation in terms of the exit date,” she said. 

Funding is ending 

The way funding for the hoteling is set up means that some Detroiters may have until June 30 to find alternative housing, while others may have stays beyond then. 

Because the U.S. Treasury Department requires all funds from the first pot of the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance, or CERA, program to be used by June 30, families need to move into other housing by then because hotel stays cannot be funded beyond that, said Kelly Rose, MSHDA chief housing solutions officer, in a statement. If those dollars aren’t used up, the federal government can claw it back

A second round of CERA dollars cannot be used on hotel stays because of rules set by the state Legislature, according to MSHDA. 

Those guidelines require that eligible households have back rent prior to March 30, Rose said. 

“It is leaving us in a situation where we do not have access to additional funding for the hoteling program,” Schneider said. 

Some people may be able to stay after June 30 because of aid from a separate pool of rent aid the city directly received. Exit dates are on a case-by-case basis, officials said. 

The stays are usually limited to three months, but can be extended another three months if families are having trouble finding permanent housing, Rose said. 

If families have not found housing by then, they’ll be offered assistance through other programs, including shelter stay depending on available local funds, she said. 

People are eligible for hotel stays if they were experiencing homelessness because of a prior eviction or some other circumstances, or if their current home was not habitable, she said. They had to have applied for CERA, a program meant to help those who fell behind on rent and utilities because the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The households are eligible for security deposit and three months future rent after they have located a rental unit,” she said. 

Those who may not have new housing lined up after June 30 may be directed to stay with family and friends — often referred to as “diversion” — or shelters, Neblett said.

Hotel stays began last fall. Most organizations stopped putting families into hotels with CERA funds because they need to be moved into permanent housing by June 30, Rose said. 

“Households can potentially be offered hotels with other funding sources, but in most cases will be offered emergency shelter placement,” she said. 

So far, less than $342,000 has been spent on 99 families who have ended their temporary hoteling, according to MSHDA. That doesn’t include people currently in hotels.

Housing market is challenging

The United Community Housing Coalition and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency are the Detroit-based organizations assisting with hotel stays. 

“We’re always looking for housing, providing addresses to places that people might want and they’re often looking on their own,” said Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition. 

The organization is working with 26 hotel clients. The idea is that no one would stay longer than necessary in hotels. Some people may have their stays extended past June 30, using other funds, he said. 

The organization will inspect the housing to check it is in decent shape and will cover as much as it can for first month’s rent, security deposit and or anything else a tenant may qualify for.

“The big impediments are usually the availability of housing, and then the willingness of landlords to accept tenants,” he said. Low, or no income levels, is a barrier when landlords want to see a person’s ability to pay rent. 

Michael Centi, of Wayne Metro, said in a statement that his organization has helped 116 households with hotel stays since July. Each family is matched with a case manager who provides services like child care, employment help, and help identifying housing leads.

People are given 60 days notice when they have to leave, he said. None of Wayne Metro’s 47 Detroit families have the June 30 exit date because of the pool of funding backing the stays.

“The housing market is incredibly challenging right now,” Centi said. The goal is to keep the stays short and transition them into permanent housing. 

Phillips said his organization has told residents that the hotel stays are temporary and is actively working to send housing and city job program referrals. 

“All residents that are being supported through hotel stays through CERA should have received written notifications from the providers as well as additional check-ins from their case managers with lead time,” Neblett said during the city council meeting. 

Detroit has, in total, received $308 million in federal rental assistance, through both the state and the city itself, and 46,000 households have applied. 

“It is a provision of federal assistance that has not been made available ever before. We’ve had it for two years. There is a reality coming that these dollars will not be available in the future,” Schneider said. 

‘I want to cry’

Joe McGuire, a housing attorney and member of the group, Detroit Eviction Defense, said he’s been working in the city a long time and has never seen so many people who have faced eviction, who were unable to find a place to rent, even if they had an income. 

Those in hotels his group has been in contact with “have nowhere else to go.” 

“They have been looking — some of them for months for someone to rent to them and they’re getting rejected and rejected and rejected,” he said. 

Detroiter LaTonya Ware has struggled to find a place. She has been staying at a Ferndale hotel funded by federal rent aid dollars since November. She was evicted late fall from her Detroit home for nonpayment. She said she withheld rent because of bad conditions in her building, like mice and roaches.

Attempts to reach her former apartment complex Wednesday were unsuccessful.

“I want to cry because I feel like I’m back at square one where I was at the first time. And I feel like they should keep us up — the ones that still haven’t found housing yet,” Ware, 38, said. 

Ware has been looking for permanent housing but it’s been a struggle because of income requirements, finding a suitable location and securing transportation to look at places, she said. 

“I’m stuck and I’m lost right now because I never stayed in a shelter,” she said. She’s since been told that she can stay in the hotel until she finds a unit. 

The city says it is working with agencies providing rent aid to help find a solution for Ware. Phillips, with the United Community Housing Coalition, said his organization is trying to make sure she lands somewhere safely. 

Council members on Tuesday expressed concerns about the June 30 deadline and affordable housing options available for residents exiting the hotels. 

“If we can’t find housing in Detroit, something is wrong. We’re not doing what we need to be doing as a city, if we cannot place people in housing,” said Council President Mary Sheffield. 

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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