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Detroit Mayor Duggan taps leaders for Office of Eviction Defense

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's administration on Wednesday named an executive director and a project manager to the city's new Office of Eviction Defense, which is aimed at giving legal counsel to certain qualifying residents who face eviction.

April Faith-Slaker will serve as the office's executive director. Formerly the associate director of the Harvard Law School's Access to Justice Lab, Faith-Slaker's background is in ensuring people have equal opportunity to both civil and criminal justice, the city said in a news release. Dylon Adrine will work as program manager after spending time as a consultant on Duggan's Lean Sigma Six team.

The hires are a critical step in launching the the office first approved by the City Council in May to help provide legal counsel to Detroiters facing eviction. The council guaranteed the office would be established by Oct. 1 of this year, but the city missed the launch date. The office will instead be up and running Jan. 3 when Faith-Slaker and Adrine are scheduled to start, said Duggan spokesman John Roach.

April Faith-Slaker will lead Detroit's newly formed Office of Eviction Defense.

The City Council ordinance provided $6 million in federal COVID relief funds and another $4 million from the Gilbert Family Foundation in its first year to fund court representation for those most in need. Advocates have argued that more than $17 million is needed in the first year of the initiative.

Office of Eviction Defense officials will work with the United Community Housing Coalition, announced last month as the city's partner in the office. The contract with UCHC has not been finalized, the city said, but will go before the council after its holiday break ends in January.

"We are building a very strong team dedicated to making sure Detroiters facing eviction have legal representation and Detroiters are fortunate to have April and Dylon leading this effort,” Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett said in the news release. “They fully appreciate the urgency of this issue and once the contract with UCHC is approved in early January, their work will begin in earnest.”

Services from the Office of Eviction Defense will be available to anyone earning up to twice the federal poverty level, the city has said. In 2022, the federal poverty level was $27,750 for a family of four, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services which sets the levels.

A study released in November by the University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions researchers found that rental eviction filings are on pace to return to pre-pandemic levels as of June. Roughly 21% of Detroit renters, or about 61,000 tenants, will face eviction this year, researchers found.

“We see a drop in default evictions when tenants face fewer barriers and have more opportunities to meaningfully participate in court proceedings,” said Katlin Brantley, a graduate student research assistant at UM's Poverty Solutions, in a news release announcing the study. “To further reduce default evictions, the court could raise the burden of proof required from landlords to justify the eviction, regardless of whether the tenant is able to appear in court.”

Funding the city's Right to Counsel program would help address the problem, researchers found. A Poverty Solutions study from June found that landlords annually filed about 30,000 eviction cases before the pandemic, affecting the equivalent to one in every five households. Tenants with attorneys are more likely to avoid eviction, but the study found landlords are often represented by attorneys while tenants are not.

The city, along with it spartners, "have directed more than $300 million toward eviction prevention and defense, providing rental assistance to nearly 30,000 households and legal representation to more than 15,000 Detroit renters," the city said in its release. 

Renters who are facing eviction still have access to legal counsel, the city said, by showing up to their court hearing with a copy of their notice to quit.


Twitter: @Hayley__Harding