Low-income Detroit residents facing housing instability due to economic hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for support through a $50 million fund approved by state lawmakers last week.
“When we were here a month ago, we had $5 million,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We couldn't help you unless you had an eviction notice. Now we can help you if you have a late rent.”
Duggan added that late utilities payments could also qualify as factors to help Detroit residents access rental assistance which would be paid directly to landlords. The number of payments processed through this package will be based on household income.
The mayor did not cite a specific figure for how many Detroit residents might qualify, saying only, “The number of people that we have to reach is significant.”
Detroit began working with Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency to process applications on Monday. Louis Piszker, who heads the agency, said that more than 800 Detroit residents have already filed for rental assistance.
"We have the staffing capacity and we are ready to go,” he said. “We have 140 staff available every day to work on this program. We also have 60 staff manning our call center."
Payments will be issued directly to landlords on behalf of approved Detroit residents, but those payments could be withheld if they cannot provide a certificate of compliance with city housing regulations.
“We're not simply going to give the money away to landlords who are non-compliant and allow this to continue,” Duggan said. “$50 million dollars is a lot of money, and we want to make sure that it is going to landlords who are either already in compliance or are committed to making the repairs.”
Eviction proceedings, which were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, began again at the start of 2021 with a backlog of cases to address. Part of the aid package will include free legal support from the area nonprofit organizations United Community Housing Coalition, Michigan Legal Services, and Lakeshore Legal Aid.
The sort of legal support will vary based on need, said Ted Phillips, who heads the United Community Housing Coalition. He said one major issue is ensuring that Detroit residents facing evictions “attend” their virtual court proceedings.
“The biggest problem we have right now is, is attendance,” he said. “We get records from the court every week of who is in facing a potential bail of eviction. There are persons who go out and do door knocking and deliver letters to the tenants that are in those situations.”
Phillips could not comment on the number of cases pending before the courts, but said that in ordinary circumstances cases would be scheduled within 10 days of filing. Now, he said, that timeline has stretched to five weeks.