volunteers talking to each other
Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition member Evan Villeneuve (center) talks with volunteers (left to right) Geri Warren, Jerome Hunt, and Shapri Hunt while explaining the section of Martin Luther King I & II homes in Detroit where they will pass out flyers about fed rent aid to residents on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

A statewide program to help families catch up on rent payments and avoid eviction will stop taking new applications after the end of the month. 

City officials encouraged Detroiters to apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program — also known as CERA — before a June 30 deadline and broadly outlined resources available for residents after the federally funded assistance ends. 

The program has kept 19,000 Detroit families in their homes, Mayor Mike Duggan said during a Wednesday news conference. 

“We knew it was a short-term program and it did what it was intended to do. It gave folks interim rent, utility assistance while they were in lockdown, but today, people are by and large back to work,” Duggan said. 

Through CERA, $159 million in federal aid has gone to renters and landlords in Detroit since March 2021. 

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) — which is responsible for administering the $1.1 billion program that’s been in place for a little more than a year — said that it will continue processing applications until all funds are used up. 

Those who have already completed a CERA application should check their status, but should not apply again because that can slow down the overall processing time, said Julie Schneider, acting director of the city’s Housing and Revitalization Department.

They should also check their inbox for any emails from MSHDA about an incomplete application or other important communications, Schneider said. 

Duggan outlined a three-pronged plan for help available after the program ends. This will include lawyers for Detroiters in court facing eviction, potential job placement through a city program and help getting into emergency shelter for those facing homelessness. 

A trio of organizations — the United Community Housing Coalition, Michigan Legal Services and Lakeshore Legal Aid — and private lawyers provided free legal counsel to 16,000 Detroiters facing eviction since August 2020, Duggan said. 

Detroiters with eviction cases in district court will continue to get paid lawyers as the city’s new right to counsel program gears up later this year, he said. 

“The most important thing to remember is for tenants — that they come to court if they are served an eviction notice,” even if they’ve applied for CERA and already received some other assistance, said Ashley Lowe, CEO of Lakeshore Legal Aid. 

Lawyers can also talk to renters about their rights when it comes to vouchers, subsidized housing and getting repairs and inspections done in their home, she said. 

Those who need immediate shelter can contact the Coordinated Assistance Model, or CAM, which is the main entry point for people facing homelessness in the city to get help. The best way to reach the housing specialists is by going in-person to the CAM offices at 1600 Porter St. in Corktown or calling 313-305-0311. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Detroiters looking for work can also apply for the city’s “rapid jobs” program connecting residents to employment that’s immediately available. There are currently more than 12,000 job vacancies, Duggan said. 

People who have already been placed in these jobs are earning more than $16 an hour, said Dana Williams, chief strategy officer for Detroit at Work. 

For more information, go to www.DetroitEvictionHelp.com or call Detroit At Work at 313-962-9675.

Here’s a rundown of what to know about the CERA program as it winds down: 

What is the CERA program?

The program provides up to 18 months of rental assistance for qualifying applicants who faced economic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can also be used to help pay for utility bills. Applicants must be below 80% of the area median income. In other words, a one-person Detroit home must have an income of $50,150 a year or less to be eligible. Applicants must also show proof of financial distress since the pandemic began, such as qualifying for unemployment or having a past due rent notice. 

When will the program stop taking applications? 

New applications for CERA will not be accepted after 9 p.m. June 30. Detroiters who have not yet applied have until then to apply. This can be done by going to the CERA website at https://ceraapp.michigan.gov. Funds will continue to go out to those who are approved until Sept. 30, or until aid runs out, according to the city.

Those who need additional help can go to www.DetroitEvictionHelp.com or call the Detroit Eviction Helpline at 866-313-2520. 

Detroiters can check the status of their application by going online to the CERA website. They should also check their inboxes because MSHDA sent out emails the week of May 30, city officials said. 

They should make sure they completed their application because an incomplete submission will not be accepted after the deadline. 

Nushrat Rahman

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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