The Supreme Court blocked the latest federal moratorium on residential evictions late Thursday, allowing evictions to resume nationwide.
Thousands of people in Michigan reported facing eviction and foreclosure, the latest census survey data shows, as the delta variant surges. Tenant advocates anticipate an uptick in eviction filings. Meanwhile, the state has distributed a fraction of its federal emergency rent aid dollars and says it expects to ramp up its pace.
Evictions for nonpayment of rent at 36th District Court in Detroit will resume immediately, the court said in a statement Friday afternoon.
Housing advocates say the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium was disappointing.
“It was heartbreaking, disappointing, devastating. That means millions of tenants across the country, not just here in the Detroit area, are at risk of eviction. They, and their families, are at risk of being homeless,” said Tonya Myers Phillips, public policy adviser for Michigan Legal Services and director of community partnerships and development at the Sugar Law Center for Social and Economic Justice.
Landlords have said the moratorium has hit them hard financially as they try to pay for mortgages, property taxes and maintenance.
In Detroit, two landlords earlier this month filed a federal lawsuit against 36th District Court in Detroit and its chief judge for issuing a halt on evictions, noting that they were deprived of their property rights.
Aaron Cox, a Taylor-based attorney who represents landlords, property managers and real estate investors, said he expects his clients are relieved about the eviction freeze lifting.
“Landlords have been asked to bear a tremendous burden,” Cox said Friday. He is one of the attorneys representing the landlords in the lawsuit and declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Evictions expected to increase
The Supreme Court said in its unsigned opinion Thursday that the CDC, which reinstated the moratorium Aug. 3, lacked the authority to do so without congressional approval.
“It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorized the action that the CDC has taken. But that has not happened,” the opinion reads.
Still, tenants may have a short cushion of time under a July administrative order from the Michigan Supreme Court, said Jim Schaafsma, a housing attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program. That order allows for a 10-day period after the moratorium lifts for tenants “to pay or move.”
The order stills applies despite the federal high court ruling, said John Nevin, a spokesperson for the Michigan Supreme Court.
“When the Supreme Court administrative order continuing special procedures for landlord tenant cases was updated earlier this summer, the language anticipated the end of the federal moratorium, so we do not expect further Court action or guidance to trial courts. District courts statewide have been working very hard to get renters connected with representation and resources and that effort is paying off,” he said in an email Friday.
The 36th District Court on Friday said because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, evictions for nonpayment will resume and the court does not plan to institute its own eviction freeze.
“Despite the conclusion of the CDC eviction moratorium, a multitude of resources are still being made available for both tenants and landlords in an effort to resolve cases in a more favorable manner for all involved, outside of eviction,” Cheif Judge William McConico said in a statement.
Landlords are not looking to evict people when federal rent aid is available, Cox said.
“Landlords don’t want to remove nonpaying tenants, they want the rent. But the landlords should absolutely have a constitutional right to control who occupies their property,” Cox said.
Ted Phillips, executive director of the Detroit-based United Community Housing Coalition, said he expects a significant increase in evictions and eviction filings. There are roughly 650 households in Detroit at risk of losing housing “fairly soon,” he estimates.
“We’re continuing to work our way through everybody that’s potentially at risk of eviction and trying the best we can to get to everybody,” he said.
Tenants, landlords need rent aid
Rent remains one of the top pandemic-related reasons people call the United Way’s 211 service, a statewide dashboard shows.
More than 100,000 people in Michigan between Aug. 4 and Aug. 16 said they could face eviction or foreclosure, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early August issued a targeted moratorium on residential evictions through Oct. 3. The CDC’s freeze covered counties the CDC defined as having substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission as of Aug. 3. Most counties in Michigan were covered.
Part of the reason the CDC said it had implemented its new freeze was to give states and cities more time to distribute billions in rent aid dollars.
But that process has been sluggish and barely picked up in July, data released this week by the U.S. Treasury Department shows.
Across the country, state and local programs have spent about $5.1 billion of $25 billion — the first round of federal emergency rent relief dollars — according to Treasury Department data. Congress approved $46.5 billion in rent aid in total. In July, people received about $1.6 billion in rent and utility payments, a slight uptick from the $1.5 billion distributed the prior month.
Michigan has distributed $152 million of the $622 million allocated to the state as of this week, according to the Michigan State Housing Authority, the agency responsible for allocating the dollars through housing agencies across the state. Another $20 million will going out soon, Katie Bach, MSDHA communications director, said Friday.
Wayne County alone has roughly 19,000 applications in progress and has approved more than 5,000. The county has received the majority of applications for the statewide COVID Emergency Rental Assistance, or CERA, program.
People in Detroit are waiting 90 days on average to receive payments. The city has the highest volume of applicants.
UCHC has been averaging over $8,000 per payout, Phillips said.
“Eviction cases are being prioritized to prevent as many evictions as possible,” Bach said in an email.
The state, as of Wednesday, has received 67,734 CERA applications. It has approved more than 25,000 households. There are more than 35,000 households still in progress, meaning an application has been submitted, but it hasn’t been approved or denied. Fewer than 7,500 applications have been denied.
Bach said the pace of monthly payments have accelerated in Michigan from less than $700,000 in March to $42 million in July. The state expects to distribute up to $50 million this month and up to $65 million in September, she said.
Applying for the CERA program is “the best way to avoid eviction” and get caught up on back rent.
“It can help pay current and future rent and help with utilities to help restore housing stability,” she said.
Tenant and landlord advocates agree that federal rent aid is key.
Cox said the CERA money is, for the most part, getting into the hands of landlords in a timely fashion.
“It’s not like landlords are going to just run out and try to throw people out of their properties for simple nonpayment of rent issues when CERA funding is otherwise still available. The landlord’s goal at the end of the day is to get that payment,” he said.
Meanwhile, tenant advocates have said the eviction freeze bought time to get rent aid out to people.
“There’s still a lot of money there, so landlords and tenants need to be seeking out that money,” Schaafmsa said.
For more information about CERA, go to https://michigan.gov/CERA.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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.