State launches $622M COVID rental aid program to avoid evictions

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Help is on the way for residents facing hardships with rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a state program officially launched Monday, officials said.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority unveiled a $282 million rental assistance program to help tenants avoid eviction and ensure landlords can recoup rent. It also said another $340 million to be appropriated by the state Legislature will be available, bringing the program to $622 million.

Michigan renters struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic can get help from a state program launched Monday, according to officials.

Officials said the initiative, the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, or CERA, replaces the Eviction Diversion Program the state launched in July 2020.

"At MSHDA, we know just how critical housing security is for success in so many other areas of life, and it takes a heavy toll on individuals and families when they don't know how they will make their next rent payment or if they will still have a roof above their heads next week," Kelly Rose, MSHDA's chief housing solutions officer, said in a statement.

"CERA gives Michiganders that much-needed peace of mind by helping them catch up on their rent and utility costs while also ensuring landlords can recover rent owed to them."

Funding for CERA comes from the federal coronavirus aid package passed in December 2020. State officials said $560 million of the $622 million allocated to Michigan in the package will be used directly for rental and utility assistance. The remaining $62 million has been set aside for case management, administrative and legal services. Michigan has until Sept. 30 to spend or earmark $405 million of the funding.

MSHDA will administer the program while a network of agencies and nonprofits will work with tenants and landlords to process applications, administer funds and ensure eviction filings are resolved.

Tenants or landlords or tenants may apply for help under the program. Renters who make 80% or less of the area median income are eligible. Renters may also qualify for assistance paying utilities through CERA. Copies of bills are required so payments can be made for renters.

MSHDA said it anticipates the average rental assistance payout through the program could be as much as $10,000, compared with $3,300 under the EDP.

Officials anticipate the program can help 50,000-55,000 families or 140,000 individuals this year. They said the previous program, the EDP, helped about 16,000 households statewide avoid eviction.

"For so many Michiganders, the fear of losing their home during the pandemic has been very real," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. "That's why I took steps to mitigate evictions with a moratorium and the Eviction Diversion Program last year. I was proud to sign this legislation bringing more federal funds into MSHDA to help individuals and families by alleviating the burden of rent and utility payments."

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez