Deadline looms for Detroiters to apply for COVID emergency rental assistance

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Detroit residents facing eviction and in immediate need of housing will get same-day placement in emergency shelters or other housing as the deadline to apply for emergency rental assistance in Michigan looms, city officials said Wednesday.

The deadline to apply for the state's COVID emergency rental assistance program is June 30. The state will continue to provide aid to approved applicants until Sept. 30 or until the funding runs out. 

The city estimates that 82% of Detroit's residents are low-income and 52% are renters.

Lakeshore Legal Services attorney Ashley Lowe on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, explains how her law firm provides free legal services to Detroit tenants who believe they were wrongfully evicted.

Through the CERA program $159 million in rent assistance has been allocated to more than 19,000 Detroit residents since March 2021, with around 10,000 more families' requests still pending approval, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. The city will also provide free legal aid to tenants who claim they were wrongfully evicted and employment through the rapid job placement program. 

"Anybody who's being evicted and is on the verge of being homeless, the city is going to step in immediately so you don't spend a single night on the street," Duggan said. 

For residents who find themselves homeless, Duggan said the city has the capacity to provide same-day shelter through CAM Detroit, an organization that connects residents with community partners that provide housing opportunities. 

"So there is no reason for somebody to stay out involuntarily, you might be at a shelter, you might be in a temporary hotel," Duggan said. 

CAM Detroit urgently addresses each individual's housing needs, but "housing may not be immediately available," Southwest Solutions President CEO Sean de Four said in a statement. "If someone contacts CAM Detroit, our team will assess their situation and help provide referrals for housing and shelter resources.”

Lakeshore Legal Services, United Community Housing Coalition and Michigan Legal Services provide all Detroit tenants facing eviction with advice and representation if residents choose to accept it.

"Every single day, between these three organizations, our lawyers are in court on these virtual dockets representing tenants, so every time someone goes to court there is a legal aid lawyer there to represent them," said Ashley Lowe, an attorney with Lakeshore Legal Services.

Nearly 30,000 eviction cases go through Detroit's 36th district court every year, according to a report by the University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions. The same report found that tenants were significantly more likely — about 18 times more — to keep their housing when they had legal representation. 

Earlier this month evicted tenants that the city had put up in hotels using federal assistance demanded more help in finding permanent housing from City Hall. 

Detroit Eviction Defense Attorney Joe McGuire said that while the city does have the resources to ensure that residents are not homeless in emergency situations, the infrastructure for more permanent solutions than hotels and shelters is lacking. He added that there are plenty of funds from COVID relief aid and the American Rescue Plan Act to support more permanent solutions.

"A lot of the infrastructure has not been built out like it should have been... the counselors that are necessary, the connections to existing housing, and obviously the construction of new housing, as well as the rehabilitation of housing that the city already owns," McGuire said. 

The mayor said "We are committed that nobody is living on the streets involuntarily. There are some individuals who choose to be outside but we have the capacity to respond on an emergency basis." So they can house anyone who needs it in an emergency, either in a shelter or hotel, he said. 

Increasing rent prices over the past year have forced many Detroit residents to move to avoid falling behind or getting evicted, an issue Duggan said he hears most about from residents. 

Lakeshore Legal Services, Michigan Legal Services and the housing coalition have been flooded with requests for help since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's federal eviction moratorium in August 2021.

The agencies helped craft the Right to Counsel Proposal that was approved by the city council last month. The ordinance means the city will provide free legal assistance to any resident who meets low-income guidelines. The program is funded with a combination of federal COVID relief funds and philanthropic donations.

Dana Williams, director of Detroit At Work, the city's workforce agency, said they can support residents in job searches immediately. 

Dana Williams, chief strategy officer for Detroit at Work, speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, about immediate employment opportunities for Detroit residents.

"If you feel that you're on the verge of not having enough income, we can work with you to get you connected to an opportunity that may even be part time... until you figure out what your next move is," Williams said. 

Duggan stressed the number of vacant positions in the city currently, saying there are over 12,000 jobs that need to be filled. 

The CERA program is still accepting applications for rental assistance and Director of Housing and Revitalization Julie Schneider encouraged anyone who has experienced COVID-related hardships and is struggling to pay rent to apply in the next two weeks. Anyone who had already applied for CERA assistance should have received an email with an update on the status of their application during the week of May 30, Schneider said. 

"Applications that have been submitted in the portal will continue to be reviewed and processed, so if you've received a status that it's in progress, know that we are still processing it," Schneider said. "And we will continue to do so until all funds are spent and we anticipate that happening towards the end of this year."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly what kind of city assistance is provided to those without shelter.