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Detroit offering housing assistance as eviction efforts resume

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Wednesday outlined the city's efforts to keep people in their homes as court eviction proceedings resume during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Detroiters who fell behind on rent during the pandemic, the city's Eviction Prevention Program is providing legal services, rental assistance, relocation and housing placement where necessary, he said.

Detroit's temporary ban on evictions expired Aug. 17 as protesters gathered outside 36th District Court to demand aid for tenants struggling to pay their bills.

Mayor Mike Duggan on Wednesday outlined the city's efforts to keep people in their homes as court eviction proceedings resume during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city's eviction ban expired a month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's four-month moratorium was lifted, which led to courts outside Detroit to accept cases from landlords seeking to oust tenants for nonpayment of rent. The Detroit court ordered the moratorium extension to give eviction assistance programs a chance to get started and allow tenants to access legal counsel. 

"The failure of the federal government to effectively do anything to stop the evictions and support the folks who are out of work, we are very concerned about the housing security,” Duggan said Wednesday. “The city has taken the lead from day one. We have nearly $12 million to pay for attorneys, pay back rent and make arrangements with landlords. But for people in these situations, it’s important to pay what you can. There’s not enough money to cover everything.

“We do not need people looking for new homes during this pandemic,” he said.

By law, landlords are required to follow a specific state-mandated procedure when attempting to evict a tenant. There must be a seven-day notice for nonpayment of rent and a 30-day notice for termination of tenancy.

Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition, said there are people who have cases from February and March who face possible homelessness.

More than 100 people are in the last step of the eviction process; however, no one was evicted last week because many tenants did not receive notice of hearings from the courts through the mail, he said, a problem stemming from the slowdown in postal service because of cost-cutting efforts.

"We are going to have a horrible problem clearly with mail in the city of Detroit," Phillips said. "Most of those cases were postponed while others were settled on the spot with the attorneys we had there then."

Phillips sent flyers to tenants facing eviction with the new dates of their virtual hearings, he said. The first hearing will be a pretrial, where the sides will attempt "to work something out before heading to trial," he said.

The court will be limiting the number of hearings each day. It's unclear how many new cases have been filed, Phillips said.

"They can not pack the courtroom like they once did," Phillips said. "We hope, with those limits, that we can continue for many months for everyone to have counsel."

Chief Judge William C. McConico said the court has attempted to schedule hearings far out enough that tenants, landlords and attorneys have time to receive notice by mail or an at-door summons. The court will also monitor the appearance and non-appearance rates of litigants.

"Each case shall be assessed according to its own respective circumstances," he said in a statement to The Detroit News. "Accordingly, the judge who will preside over the case and hear evidence regarding why a party may or may not have appeared will determine if a penalty is appropriate. The court is aware that these are trying times that require patience and understanding for all parties involved."

In July, the state implemented a $50 million Eviction Diversion Program to help landlords receive payments for back rent and allow tenants to stay in their homes.

In exchange for allowing tenants to remain in their homes, landlords who participate in the program can receive a lump sum payment of up to 90% of owed rent. Participating landlords will have to forgive any late fees and dismiss up to 10% of the owed rent. 

"We are going to need every minute we can get," Phillips said. "We are an organization that typically takes 25 to 50 cases a month through the court to having to take 500 to 600. Thankfully, from the city, we have more staff than ever before but it's a big jump."

Of the $12 million from the CARES Act fund, $6.4 million is state-allocated for rental assistance and $800,000 for staffing. From Detroit, $3.2 million is available for enhanced legal representation and $1.25 million for additional rental assistance.

Donald Rencher, director of Housing and Revitalization Department, said the help is coming from a coalition with Lakeshore Legal Aid and Michigan Legal Assistance. Through the coalition, they are able to provide rental payments to create more stability, he said.

"We encourage not only tenants, but landlords working with tenants to reach out to DetroitEvictionHelp.com or call (866) 313-2520."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_