In 2019, 41,439 families were evicted from rental properties in Michigan. The pandemic helped to drive the number of evictions down, but it also created issues of housing stability and a potential for influx in homelessness. Still, organizations are working to ensure Michigan families can stay in their homes.
Lasting more than a year, the federal moratorium on evictions was enacted in September 2020. Causing an immediate stop to evictions, landlords were legally bound from requesting tenants to vacate. Court closings and social distancing measures also aided in keeping eviction cases out of chambers. However, courts have resumed proceedings putting thousands of families across Detroit at risk of being displaced.
As winter nears, the amount of eviction cases have begun to climb as the CDC’s eviction moratorium was lifted in September. Now, families must find a way to remain in their homes.
Lakeshore Legal Aid provides free civil legal services for those who qualify for low-income housing including senior citizens and domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. In the last year, Lakeshore has been one of the leading voices assisting families in legal proceedings concerning evictions. Actively serving Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties and others, Lakeshore has witnessed the ups and downs of the eviction process.
“It’s been kind of a wave. What we’ve seen has changed throughout the last year and a half. Shortly after the shutdown, in the beginning of the pandemic, there was very limited activity in the eviction courts and then we had the eviction moratorium that just ended. During that time, there was very little activity. A lot of landlords were waiting until the moratorium was lifted to file their eviction case. It’s not to say evictions weren’t filed, but the volume was nowhere near the normal volume,” said Ashley Lowe, chief executive officer of Lakeshore Legal Aid.
At the height of the pandemic, eviction numbers began to see a decline. Reporting 40,612 total pre-pandemic evictions across Michigan, the State reports 7,133 families were evicted during the pandemic with 63,333 new eviction cases filed.
“We are starting to see a little bit more by way of evictions, but luckily it is not a huge number,” said Kelly Rose, chief housing solutions officer with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Families seeking assistance should know there is still assistance available to counter an eviction case. CERA, or the Michigan Covid Emergency Rental Assistance program, is in place for eligible renting families and individual households that earn an income less than 80 percent of Area Median Income, or AMI.
“There’s a lot of rental assistance that’s still available. The same amounts that were available in March of this year came out of the American Rescue Act and that is a really generous rental assistance program,” said Lowe.
Proceedings for tenants who are facing eviction, but have applied for the CERA program, are put on hold to allow time for the application to process.
“If a tenant has applied for the CERA program, there is an automatic 45-day stay to their case; or a continuance. That gives time for their application to be processed and for payment to be made to the landlord,” said Rose.
Under the program, according to Lakeshore, tenants can get up to 18 months of rental assistance dating back to March 2020. Families can also receive assistance with utility payments under the Act.
“The program is great but it is slower than anyone would want it to be. People apply and it can take from a couple weeks to months to get the applications processed and money in the hands of the landlords,” said Lowe.
While landlords reserve the right to file for eviction, leasing offices and agents are also able to apply for the funds on behalf of a tenant. Landlords can begin the process by filling out their application for CERA.
“They can apply for the program, the tenant has to agree with it, but the landlord can start the application process. If they believe their tenant hasn’t paid, but the money is out there, they can go ahead and start the process and then the housing agencies will reach out to the tenant,” said Lowe.
Tenants and landlords seeking to take part in the CERA program are encouraged to complete an application online. For those who face issues with access to the internet or a computer, there is a phone number to apply.