A federal moratorium on evictions is slated to expire at the end of the month and tenant advocates, concerned the order may not be extended, are urging people behind on rent to apply for a federally funded rent aid program before the moratorium runs out.
Despite legal challenges, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on some evictions, issued last September, remains in effect through June 30. While the moratorium has helped to blunt a tsunami of evictions, housing advocates say, evictions are on the rise again. And many renters have gone through the court process, with the final step — eviction — to take place when the moratorium expires. Renters, advocates say, need protections to ensure those who qualify for federally funded rent aid have housing security as they seek assistance.
Under the CDC’s order, tenants who meet eligibility criteria and submit a declaration form are protected from eviction. The moratorium is “holding the dam from breaking,” said Ted Phillips, executive director of Detroit-based United Community Housing Coalition.
“The bottom line is that there’s a whole bunch of folks with judgments against them. There’s a whole bunch of folks with signed writs that have been held up by the moratorium and legally speaking, those landlords are free to act after June 30,” he said.
It’s difficult to quantify how many people could face eviction after the moratorium lifts, housing experts say. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey reports that, between April 29 and May 10, more than 53,000 Michigan households said they were not up-to-date on rent or mortgage payments, where eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely.
A recent study from the University of Michigan found that eviction filings in the pandemic — between April and December 2020 — fell 65%, compared to the same time in 2019. The decrease was because of safety nets such as eviction moratoriums, legal aid and rental assistance, researchers found.
“Some of the emergency supports put in place are set to expire, and stakeholders should act now to permanently reduce eviction rates and the negative outcomes associated with housing instability,” said Margaret Dewar, professor emerita at U-M’s A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, in a news release.
State Court Administrator Tom Boyd said in a statement last week that his office “will continue to work with the executive and legislative branches to make sure that the people of Michigan get access to the resources they need, whether that’s legal aid or rental assistance.”
Evictions are ticking up again, moving back toward pre-pandemic levels, said Jim Schaafsma, housing attorney at the Michigan Poverty Law Program. Considering the CDC’s eviction moratorium and a robust federal rent aid program, “the eviction rate right now is alarming and troubling,” he said.
Housing advocates say billions of dollars from the federal government for emergency rental assistance are helping people who fell behind on rent and risk losing their homes.
“It’s certainly not going to be the eviction tsunami that we feared in the summer of 2020. There is a lot that has been done since that time to prevent a massive wave of evictions,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Still, Yentel said, to help people in need, that money needs to reach people before June 30.
“The challenge is getting that money to the lowest income and the most marginalized people who need it most before the moratorium expires. So it’s a race against the clock at this point,” Yentel said.
Across the country, federal rent aid dollars have been slow and complicated to roll out, according to reports in The New York Times and Vox. In Michigan, the program began later than housing organizations expected because of legislative delays in allocating the money to a state agency for distribution. More than 25,000 people have applied and 4,200 households have been paid out through Michigan’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, or CERA. But the program is “still not running on all cylinders,” Schaafsma said.
“Our goal is to approve about 2,000 applications per week and we are not quite hitting that mark yet,” Katie Bach, communications director for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA, the agency responsible for administering the money through housing nonprofits, said in an email. “We continue to work closely with local service agencies in larger communities with high volumes of applicants, so we can process them as efficiently as possible.”
Schaafsma said that there must be coordination between the two protections — a moratorium and rent assistance.
“There needs to be a better sync between the eviction protection and the success of the CERA program before the time is right for a lifting of some kind of moratorium against evictions,” he said.
Matthew Paletz, CEO of Paletz Law, a Troy-based firm that represents landlords and property owners, said “it’s completely appropriate for the moratorium to expire” because of the rental assistance flowing in.
“The assistance is available and it is coming and it is getting in the hands of renters and landlords,” he said.
Aaron Cox, a Taylor-based attorney who represents landlords, property managers and real estate investors, said the CERA program seems to be working for both tenants and landlords, where it is being implemented quickly.
“Most landlords have been harmed by the use of their property being restricted,” he said, in an email, about the CDC moratorium. “While some are being made close to whole through the CERA program others are far from it as some tenants refuse to participate or waited (too) long to participate to adequately compensate the landlord. I have at least two different clients whose tenants have balances over $20,000 and CERA will not adequately compensate those landlords.”
Here is what tenants should know as the end of the federal moratorium on some evictions approaches.
Is the CDC’s eviction moratorium still in effect?
Yes. The CDC extended the order through June 30.
“If (tenants) haven’t given their CDC declaration to their landlord, they should do that right away if they’re eligible because it still is in place, and if it gets extended then they will have that that protection in place as well,” said Ashley Lowe, CEO of Lakeshore Legal Aid.
Renters must meet eligibility requirements: they must have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments; declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships; show that they are doing their best to make timely partial payments close to the full amount; and affirm that they would have no other available housing options if they were to get evicted.
Tenants must provide a copy of a signed “declaration” to their landlord. This can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-eviction-declaration.html.
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 three months for future rent, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Both renters and landlords can apply.
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. 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?
People can go to www.michigan.gov/cera to find an application portal. Tenants and landlords can also apply through their local service agency if they cannot apply online. For a full list of those agencies, visit the CERA website.
Can tenants submit a CDC eviction moratorium and also apply for CERA?
Yes. The moratorium protects against eviction but doesn’t help tenants pay their back rent. The federal rent aid will help pay arrears and avoid possible eviction later, according to the MSHDA.
Is there a cap for how much funding a person gets?
Yes, but the cap is calculated based on 150% of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rents, MSDHA says.
So, what does that look like? For a two-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. So, if a tenant’s income is under 50% AMI with $1,600 monthly rent and they were eight 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.
What documents will renters and landlords need to show?
Tenants will need to provide a CERA tenant application; a copy of a past-due rent notice, notice to quit or court-ordered summons, complaint or judgment; a copy of a state ID or passport; a current copy of their lease agreement; and income documents. 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, a copy of the lease, a ledger showing the tenant’s payment history in 2020 and 2021 and a W-9, and verification of court costs if that applies.
Can tenants apply for help for utilities and internet?
Yes, households eligible for CERA can receive utility assistance for “tenant supplied electricity, home heating (any type of fuel), water, sewer and trash (if billed along with another utility)” and “a flat $300 internet stipend is available for households that have home internet and include a recent internet bill or statement in their application package,” MSDHA says.
For more information about CERA and for updates, go to michigan.gov/CERA.
Reach out to the following housing providers for more information:
- Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck): 866-313-2520; detroitevictionhelp.com
- Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Other Wayne neighborhoods): 734-284-6999; waynemetro.org/cera
- Macomb Homeless Coalition: 586-213-5757; www.macombhc.com
- Community Housing Network Housing Resource Center: 888-441-1742; communityhousingnetwork.com
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 Bridge Detroit 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.