Renters in the eviction process will be prioritized for federal aid because of the approaching moratorium expiration. (Shutterstock photo)

Starting Monday, Michigan renters in need and landlords can start applying for federal rent dollars that are part of a COVID-19 relief bill that Congress passed in December. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed legislation allocating $282 million in federal rent aid the state Legislature approved. Of that, about $220 million is for emergency rent assistance and another $62 million is for administrative costs associated with the state’s new rent aid program called the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance, or CERA.


In all, Congress approved $660 million in rent aid for Michigan. The rest of the money must be allocated in subsequent legislation. GOP leaders have said they are allocating the money incrementally to ensure oversight and accountability. 

The new program — which housing providers had expected to start much earlier in the year — comes as the end of a federal moratorium on some evictions draws near. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium is slated to end March 31.

Having the money to start the program is welcome news to renters across the state who have been anxiously waiting for weeks, said Kelly Rose, chief housing solutions officer for Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which will administer the new program through housing agencies across the state. 

“We’re just really excited to get the program started. We know that there’s thousands of renters and landlords that need this assistance right away,” she said. 

Through March, renters and landlords will be able to apply for the new program by contacting their local housing providers. MSHDA is building an application website that it plans to launch toward the end of March or early April. Until then, renters in the eviction process will be prioritized because of the approaching moratorium expiration, Rose said. 

She said people who don’t have an eviction case should consider waiting for the online application because that’s expected to be an easier experience. But, Rose said, people will still have the option to submit applications through their local housing agencies. 

The new program replaces a $50 million Eviction Diversion Program which ended in December. Roughly 15,000 households were approved for that program, Rose said. 

The $282 million allocation signed off by lawmakers and Whitmer this month is a portion of the more than $660 million provided to Michigan by Congress for rent and utility help in the pandemic. The Michigan Legislature has to appropriate the rent aid before it can reach housing organizations. The legislative process slowed as the GOP reconciled competing bills to allocate the dollars, and disputes with Democrats over how much of the federal money to disperse and efforts to curtail the governor’s emergency powers as part of the bills. 

Housing advocates have pushed back against the Michigan GOP’s plan to allocate only part of the federal dollars earmarked for Michigan, expressing concern that such an arrangement will make it hard for Michigan to meet federal spending requirements. The state has to distribute 65% of the federal rent aid by Sept. 30 or the federal government can take it back.

“Ultimately, this is a very dangerous gamble on the part of our legislative leadership,” said Eric Hufnagel, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, in an email.

The offices of Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, and House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, did not respond to emails and calls for comment this week.

The full $660 million allocation of rent aid is expected to help up to 55,000 households, Rose estimated. More rental aid is expected to flow into the state through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, signed by President Joe Biden Thursday

“It will allow us to serve people at least until the end of 2022,” Rose said. 

Rent assistance remains a persistent need for Michiganders. The state’s central 211 dashboard reports that it’s one of the top two COVID-19 related needs for which people call the service, right above vaccine information.

Here are details about the state’s new rent assistance program.

What is CERA? 

The COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program can help renters with past-due rent and utilities, for up to 12 months and then an additional 3 months for future rent, according to the U.S. Treasury. Both renters and landlords can apply. The payment will be made directly to the landlord or utility provider in most cases, MSHDA said

Who is eligible? 

The program can help renter households with incomes less than 80% of the Area Median Income, commonly known as AMI. In Wayne County, that equates to a one-person household income of $44,000. Renters must also demonstrate COVID-19 related hardships after March 13, 2020. This could include a person qualifying for unemployment, a reduction in income, having incurred significant costs for things like household expenses or any other financial hardship, Rose said. In addition, they must show that they are at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability by providing a past due utility or past-due rent notice. 

How can tenants and landlords apply? 

For now, renters and landlords should contact a local housing provider. A full list by county can be found at MSHDA expects to launch a website where people can apply toward the end of March or early April.

How long will it take for the aid to get to people? 

It’s hard to say now because housing providers will be focusing first on eviction cases, especially those with eviction judgments entered, Rose said. After that, it’s going to depend on the volume and how quickly applications come in, she said. 

“Generally, I think once we’re up to full speed, once a full application is submitted, it should be the matter of a couple of weeks for payment to be issued,” she said. 

What documents will renters and landlords need to show?

Tenants will need to provide a CERA tenant application; copy of past-due rent notice, notice to quit or court ordered summons, complaint or judgment; copy of state ID or passport; current copy of lease agreement; income documents; and some type of proof of COVID-19 hardship. An example could be an unemployment monetary determination letter. If a person needs utility or internet help, they should submit a copy of bills or statements. 

Landlords will need to provide a completed CERA landlord application, copy of the lease, ledger showing tenant’s payment history in 2020 and 2021 and a W-9. 

If someone applied for the last program (Eviction Diversion Program), can they apply for the new one (COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance)? 

Yes. If a person fell behind on rent again, they can apply, Rose said. Housing providers will be checking what months were paid out through the Eviction Diversion Program to make sure there isn’t a duplication of payment, she said. 

If someone was waiting for EDP funding but didn’t get that, should they re-apply for CERA?

Yes. If a renter didn’t get help through the last program, “they definitely need to reapply” because there are some different eligibility circumstances for the CERA program, and they can’t directly be rolled into the new program, Rose said. 

Can tenants submit a CDC eviction moratorium and also apply for CERA? 

Yes. “We definitely encourage people to use the CDC declaration form to try to preserve their housing and to protect themselves,” while talking to their landlord about applying for the new rent aid program, Rose said. 

Is there a cap for how much funding a person gets?

Yes, but the cap will be calculated based on 150% of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rents, Rose said. 

So, what does that look like? For a 2-bedroom unit in Wayne County, the maximum the program will pay per month is $1,573. Depending on a person’s income, they would be eligible for up to 12 months of rental assistance, Rose explained. So, if a tenant’s income is under 50% AMI with $1,600 monthly rent and they were 8 months behind on rent, they could receive $12,584, and be responsible for the remaining $216. They can also get three months of future rental assistance at that same fair market rent. 

Can tenants apply for help for utilities and internet? 

Yes, eligible households can receive utility assistance for electricity, home heating, water, sewer and trash (if it’s billed with another utility). A family of four living under 50% AMI could get up to $2,500, Rose said. Those with home internet may be able to get a $300 internet stipend, which would be paid to the tenant or internet service provider, she said. 

For more information about CERA and for updates, go to

Reach out to the following housing providers for more information:

For a full list of providers across the state click here

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

Contact Nushrat:; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR. Sign up for BridgeDetroit’s newsletter. Become a Free Press subscriber. 

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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