Mayor Mike Duggan and city officials announce $203 million affordable housing investment.
Since the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Assistance (CERA) program application deadline ended on June 30, thousands of Detroit renters continue to struggle with housing security in the face of an ongoing eviction crisis.
On Thursday, Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Councilmembers Latisha Johnson, Angela Whitfield Calloway and Mary Waters unveiled a seven-point initiative under a $203 million strategy, which is believed to be the largest single investment in affordable housing in the city’s history.
The multi-pronged plan includes turning more renters into homeowners, fast-tracking projects that include apartments at below 60 percent area median income (AMI), rehabilitating vacant homes and apartment buildings and other efforts.
The city’s seven-point affordable housing plan:
- Launching this September, the city will invest $20 million in a central call center for a “homeless hotline” and community sites for those experiencing housing instability.
- In early 2023, the city will build an online directory for Detroiters to register available rental properties.
- Detroit Housing Commission will be renovating and renting out approximately a dozen apartment buildings at 30 percent AMI.
- The city is working on acquiring individual Detroit Land Band Authority houses and provide subsidies to community development organizations. To help build wealth, there will be options for tenants.
- There will be 1,600 new units built across 30 developments, including 250 units available for “permanent supportive housing” for Detroiters to reside in for months while getting assistance.
- The city will engage in the largest down payment assistance program. The first phase aims to work with 600 current renters and convert them to homeowners. A $5 million landlord assistance program will work to expediate building renovations.
- For Detroiters participating in job training programs, the city will provide subsidies to use for rent or childcare to help facilitate an easier transition to higher paying jobs.
Regarding the permanent supportive housing program, Mayor Duggan said, “These are for folks who have been chronically homeless. It makes no sense to take a homeless person off the street and put them in shelter at six o’clock at night and let them back out on the street at 8 o’clock in the morning and expect their lives to change. These folks often need a lot of assistance, whether it’s mental health issues, addiction issues, employment issues or something going on in their lives.”
The mayor was joined by other city officials to speak about the benefits of the program’s roll out.
“As a native Detroiter who grew up in a low-income household,” said Council member Latisha Johnson via zoom, “I know how important it was for my mother to be able to rent a house that accommodated raising five children at that time. Renting an apartment was simply out of the question for our family and [it] is so for so many Detroit families today.
“Addressing housing has to be a multipronged approach and I’m glad to join my colleagues and the mayor to develop these programs to build upon the work that’s already being done so we can address the various housing needs of all Detroit residents.”
Mayor Duggan said over the next three years the city is committed to investing $500 million in public and private money, $203 million of which will be implemented by the end of 2022.
A new round of initiatives will be announced in February 2023.
2021 Detroit housing efforts in review
According to the 2021 annual report of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD), the department supported 24 projects that were completed or actively under construction in 2021 representing 889 units of affordable housing and 1,186 total housing units.
The effort impacted several Detroit neighborhoods citywide, including Midtown, Rosa Parks/Clairmount, Midtown, Milwaukee Junction, Villages, Southwest/Vernor, Woodbridge and others. The units were multi-family, single, rowhouse and multi-use homes.
Leveraging HRD’s Public Private Partnership team, Detroiters were provided with support navigating the city’s development processes, accessing public financing tools and acquiring public land.
The report accounted for progress on the city’s goals, stating, “In 2018, the City of Detroit set a goal of developing 2,000 new units of affordable housing by the end of 2023. By the end of 2021, 745 new units of affordable housing have already been developed.”
In 2018, HRD announced a commitment toward preserving 10,000 affordable housing units over a five-year period. At the end of last year, the department reported preserving 6,127 units of that goal.
Amid growing frustrations, residents battle illegal evictions and seek assistance
Earlier this month, the Urban Praxis Workshop launched the Eviction Machine, a collaborative project which, among other things, tracks evictions in Detroit by documenting trends, providing interactive data tools and educational resources for tenants on how to prevent and fight eviction. The project’s content and analyses draw on expertise from tenants and organizers working with Detroit Eviction Defense and a Detroit tenants association.
The project characterizes the “eviction machine” as the for-profit housing system in Detroit that facilitates residents’ forced displacement and an unjust legal process that privileges landlords and disempowers tenants, undermining housing as a fundamental human right.
Last month, the Michigan Chronicle spoke to Alexa Eisenberg, researcher at the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, on her findings. Their research is focused on exposing housing and racial injustice and supporting tenant-led movements to resist systematic displacement in Detroit.
According to her research, roughly 70,000 people, mostly Black tenants, lived under the threat of eviction each year prior to the onset of the pandemic and eviction prevention measures.
The instability of the city’s rental housing market can be traced to the onset of the early 2000s mortgage crisis in Detroit.
“We’ve seen fundamental changes in Detroit’s housing market where patterns of property ownership have shifted from homeowners to real estate investors and speculators,” said Eisenberg. “Displacement and dispossession, particularly of Black folks, is often a cyclical and policy-induced process.”
The result is a housing market in Detroit oversaturated with renters and a reduction in home ownership, both housing options struggle with affordability in rising property values with ongoing development investment and household income instability factors exacerbated by the pandemic.
Eisenberg said that according to her research, termination of tenancy cases or “no cause evictions” have increased during the pandemic. No-cause evictions are “tenant termination” cases where the tenant can be evicted at-will by the landlord.
“After the introduction of the CERA program,” said Eisenberg, “We saw landlords taking advantage of a loophole in COVID eviction prevention measures…the court interpreted the CDC moratorium as only applying to nonpayment of rent cases. When that ended, rental assistance was the only protection – but CERA can only prevent evictions if landlords are willing to participate in the program.
“And in Detroit especially, this meant waiting many months for applications and payments to be processed by nonprofits. They are moving slowly in administering the funds, leaving a lot of people vulnerable to landlords getting fed up and deciding to pursue another kind of eviction through termination of tenancy.”
These tenants, said Eisenberg, are mostly Black women and children, disabled adults and seniors that are unable to afford other units in the current rental environment with increasing rental costs and unstable employment. Due to the rising number of evictions filed for termination of tenancy, the 36th District Court has streamlined these cases in a docket under Judge Michael E. Wagner.
The 36th District Court has announced renters with currently open non-payment of rent cases are still eligible for the CERA program.
Under the Michigan Housing Law (MCL 125.401, et seq.), cities are authorized to regulate multi-family rental housing, including requiring that a Certificate of Compliance be obtained prior to occupancy of a rental unit.
In 2017, the City Council approved a modified Rental Ordinance. Under Section 8-15-82(d) of the City of Detroit’s Rental Ordinance, “it shall be unlawful for an owner to…collect rent from a tenant for occupancy of a rental property, during or for any time in which there is not a valid Certificate of Compliance for the rental property.”
A certificate of compliance is required by the city’s rental ordinance to ensure the landlords are up to health and safety codes of their properties. Yet Eisenberg said that nearly 9 in 10 pandemic-era evictions involved properties operated unlawfully by landlords in violation of the ordinance.
Her research showed as of March 15, approximately 5,600 properties in the city had a certificate of compliance.
“And, of course, because so few properties are registered, we don’t actually know how many rental properties there are in the city of Detroit,” said Eisenberg. “But from the Census, we can conservatively estimate that there are about 87,000 rental structures in the city. Using that as a denominator, we see about 6 percent of properties, safely less than 10 percent for sure, are code compliant.
“There has been some response from the court,” Eisenberg said. “[They] are narrowly interpreting the rental ordinance to apply to only non-payment of rent cases. This only increases the loophole for landlords. If they don’t want to be held accountable for lack of code compliance, they can file for termination of tenancy.”
Eisenberg says that “default judgments” are another way the court system favors landlords over tenants. When a tenant does not appear in court, a judgment of possession will be entered against the tenant “by default” in favor of the landlord, without the tenant being there to raise defenses like habitability, retaliation or improper notice.
According to the Eviction Machines findings, 1 in 4 cases filed during the pandemic ended in a default judgment. This is down from 42 percent of cases filed before the pandemic.
Eisenberg attributes this reduction in part to an operational order from the state court administrative office that is upheld by the 36th District Court, which introduced a pre-trial step to the eviction hearings, allowing tenants an opportunity to reschedule if they miss the first hearing. She said the court should make this change permanent.
The city has been working to enforce landlord compliance throughout the city’s zip codes since last July. A rental compliance map was established in 2021 encouraging renters to report properties that require inspection and repair. Additionally, residents can refer to the rental compliance schedule to track enforcement by zip code.
Eisenberg said she supports the city’s newly unveiled plan to spend $20 million to rehab apartment buildings and lease them at 30 percent the area median income but says that much larger investments are needed.
“The city’s plan is a response to tenants who are living in shelters, hotels, and in their cars after being evicted, who have been speaking out at city council every week. Tenants are telling policy makers they need permanently affordable low-income housing where they can live in dignity. This needs to be the priority.”