Detroit housing rights activists call on Whitmer to extend eviction moratorium

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Housing rights activists are calling for an eviction ban until 60 days or more have passed after the governor's state of emergency ends.

Protesters and tenants pose for a photo with some of the signs they brought to a well known landlord, of the area, Villages Property Management, at the end of their caravan protest.

Detroit Eviction Defense also is calling for a ban to be expanded to prohibit mortgage foreclosures and to cancel rent and mortgage payments during the coronavirus crisis to help financially distressed tenants.

"All we want to do right now is let the city and the state, and all the governments know that this rent problem is not fake," said Detroit Eviction Defense organizer Jerry Cullors during a caravan protest on the city's east side Tuesday. "It is going to get worse. As soon as they say, 'Well the cities are open again,' they're going to demand their money. We're letting them know right now — No!"

The protest came the same day the Michigan Supreme Court issued an administrative order outlining how trial courts statewide will resume processing landlord/tenant cases, including evictions.

Detroit Eviction Defense and other groups participate in a caravan protest on Van Dyke Street in Detroit on June 9, 2020. They hope the governor extends the prohibition of evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The high court said cases receiving the high priority for scheduling will be "those in which illegal activity or extensive physical damage to the premises have been alleged." Unpaid rent cases where payments haven't been made for 120 or more days "will have second priority while cases with lesser arrearages will be scheduled later."

"Local courts should not proceed to hearing cases with a lower priority until cases with a higher priority have been scheduled for hearing," the court said in a statement. 

The housing group's demands were made in front of the home of Alex DeCamp, co-owner of Villages Property Management that manages apartment, duplex and single family home rentals in the city. One of the groups represented in the protest, the Villages Properties Tenants Union, is demanding recognition from the landlord. 

"They're alluding that we're slumlords," DeCamp said. "Not only is it insulting and hurtful, but it's an outright lie."

The housing rights advocates called on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to extend the state's moratorium on evictions, which is set to end Friday, until at least 60 days after the end of the Michigan's state of emergency connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in an email that the Governor's Office was reviewing whether to extend the moratorium on evictions.

Detroit Eviction Defense called for guarantees that the $1 million from the federal CARES Act sent to Detroit to help avoid evictions would be paid to tenants. Other demands  included that rent, mortgage and land contract payments due during the state of emergency during the pandemic be forgiven.

Tenant Jo Messer, 31, of Detroit, with microphone, Detroit Eviction Defense and other groups participate in a caravan protest on Detroit's east side on Tuesday.

"If people have lost their jobs, as soon as the pandemic is over, they're likely to be evicted," said John Zettner, a member of Detroit Eviction Defense. "There are hundreds of evictions waiting in the courts."

Tristan Taylor, an organizer of the daily protests against police brutality in Detroit, spoke at the event.

"I think one of the things we've been able to do really well in the fight against police brutality is to link all the ways black and brown bodies are harmed through specific policies," Taylor said. "And so I think fighting around renters' rights and making sure the moratorium on evictions is extended is like the thing that is very powerful and necessary."

Naomi Burton is an Islandview resident who rents from Villages Property Management and is a member of the Villages Properties Tenants Union. She said tenants have withheld rent for the past two months.

Burton said when she asked about rent relief, she received an email about unemployment benefits.

DeCamp countered by saying that in the months since coronavirus hit Detroit, Villages Property Management had reached out to all of its tenants saying it would work with individual tenants having financial difficulties. According to DeCamp, a grant of more than $24,000 has been passed onto a business tenants in the past few months.

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter