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Detroit council signs off on $31M spending plan for federal COVID aid

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Efforts to provide tax-filing and tenant aid, home repairs for seniors and housing for the city's homeless are getting $31 million infusion in federal aid for COVID-19.

Detroit's City Council unanimously signed off Tuesday on the Duggan administration's spending plan for pandemic relief dollars awarded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES. 

From left, City council member James Tate and president pro tem Mary Sheffield listen while president Brenda Jones addresses a public hearing regarding overtaxation of homeowners at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit on Mar. 3, 2020.

Detroit is among the hard-hit cities nationwide sharing in a portion of $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earmarked for communities with high public health risks.

Detroit's Housing & Revitalization Department is directing the CARES dollars toward reducing housing disruptions caused by COVID-19, which officials say threaten to put even more residents at risk of contracting the deadly disease. 

The city will use $20.8 million in block-grant dollars for housing counseling, tax-filing aid for about 3,500 people, and eviction defense and rental assistance for landlords and tenants. Another $10.5 million in emergency solutions grants will be used to expand homeless outreach and supply permanent housing for up to 24 months. 

Detroit's housing director Donald Rencher has said that the programs targeted for the federal aid have long suffered with a lack of adequate funding. 

"But now that we have this money, we can, and it directly relates to our ability to keep people healthy during this pandemic," he said.  

The council also approved a measure to reprogram $6 million in unused city funds for housing stability. 

As of Monday, the city's Health Department reported 11,239 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,401 deaths.

Rencher has said he anticipates contracts for the services will be awarded and the efforts will be funded by the first week of July. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer barred evictions during her statewide stay home, stay safe order. Detroit's 36th District Court, in turn, issued an eviction moratorium. But city officials are expecting a spike in cases once the order expires on June 12 and said they are looking to get ahead of it by providing legal counseling, help with money owed in rent and housing placement services.

The CARES funding, through Detroit's nonprofit partners, will provide one-time back rental payments to households at or below 200% of the federal poverty line, or an income of $52,400 a year for a family of four.

The city also will direct dollars toward permanent supportive housing, meal and prescription delivery for seniors who have tested positive for the virus, and about $2.5 million in senior home repair funding to replace general fund reductions resulting from pandemic-related budget cuts, officials said. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said the CARES funding is "just the beginning." The city, he said, has requested additional dollars "to ensure that lives are saved and Detroit’s recovery will not be undone by the virus’ devastating consequences on the economy.”