Detroit announces $130 million program to prevent evictions
Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced Friday a program to help keep people in their homes by helping them pay overdue rent and utilities and providing lawyers for those facing eviction.
The federal ban on evictions put into place because of the COVID-19 pandemic ended last month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has the ability to make orders to protect public health, had overstepped its authority.
That change opened the floodgates for potentially millions of people across the country to face eviction. Federal assistance is available, but many people don't know how to find it and state and federal officials have been slow to disburse the money. As a result, much of the money goes unspent. The Michigan State Housing and Development Authority is administering $622 million through a federal COVID rental assistance program, but nearly $500 million in rental assistance grants was unspent as of late July.
Evictions for nonpayment started again on Sept. 7 in the 36th District Court, which covers those living in Detroit.
Duggan said Friday he hoped to make it easier for Detroiters to connect with resources with the new program.
"We don't want vacant houses," he said. "We don't want our families to be looking for a house in the middle of COVID."
Duggan presented the program as a three-point plan. The first step is to offer legal representation to anyone who needs it, he said. The second is to provide assistance for those who suffered financial hardship because of the pandemic, and the third is to work with those who need job placement help "so that you can pay rent going forward," he added.
The city has $130 million available, which comes from the $622 million in COVID Emergency Rental Assistance funding Michigan received from the federal government. It can cover up to 18 months of unpaid rent, Duggan said, and the money is available immediately. It doesn't necessarily need to go just to those being evicted, either. Being behind on rent means a person can access the assistance.
To qualify, applicants must be a low-income (which is based on federal guidelines and includes a single person who makes less than $44,000 a year or a family of four who makes less than $62,000 a year) and have suffered financial hardship over the course of the pandemic.
The city has helped 4,000 families, Duggan said. He expects thousands more will be eligible.
Landlords who want to avoid evicting tenants can also apply for rental assistance. In most cases, the program will make the payment directly to the landlord.
Even landlords without a certificate of compliance, which the city requires to ensure a property is safe for occupancy, can get back rent. Those who do not have a certificate of compliance can get 80% of the back rent immediately, Duggan said, with the other 20% paid after repairs are made on the rental.
Both renters and landlords can begin the process by reaching out to the city at detroitevictionhelp.com or calling 866-313-2520. The money is available through the end of 2022, Duggan said, and he does not expect it to run out before then.
Duggan emphasized that the services are only available to those who reach out and ask for them.
"We have ways to help you, even if you are being evicted right now," Duggan said. "You might think it's hopeless, but it's not, because when we're getting lawyers out there, the vast majority of cases are getting worked out well."
Attorneys will provide legal advice and represent those who need it for free. All that's needed is that the tenant shows up to court, which can be done over Zoom or by phone.
Ashley Lowe, the CEO of Lakeshore Legal Aid, the group helping the city with legal representation, said that in a similar program, 97% of people who had a lawyer representing them were able to stay in their home.
Requests for representation "are really starting to take off now that we know the moratorium has been lifted," Lowe said, and her team has 14 lawyers working on the programs.
The city is also working with those who are unemployed or underemployed because of the pandemic. Detroit at Work, the city's job services program, is prioritizing job placement for those who are facing eviction.
Dana Williams, who leads the workforce development program, said that several employers are involved in the program and are "committed to putting Detroiters first in the hiring processes." Available jobs pay between $12 and $20 an hour.
"These are good jobs, and the employers are committed to helping folks stay in these employment opportunities," Williams said. "They're in a diverse range of industries as well, everything from restaurants to hotels, production and manufacturing to health care." No matter what it is you'd like to begin to pursue a career in, we can help you."
Duggan encouraged people to take advantage of all three available options even if they felt like they were beyond help. He said he had seen individual programs focused on one of the three elements across the country, but nothing that covered all three.
"I have not seen another city where you get all three things, where you can get a lawyer, help with back rent and rapid job placement," he said. "We think it takes all three, and we're going to provide the service we need."