State News

Whitmer creates $50M rent relief fund, but can it stave off an eviction crisis?


July 07, 2020, 10:37 PM by  Violet Ikonomova
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A caravan protest against evictions in May. (Photo: Detroit Eviction Defense)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has crafted a plan to help head off an anticipated wave of Covid-related evictions when a moratorium expires July 16, but experts and activists fear it won't go far enough.

The Eviction Diversion Program will be funded with $50 million from the federal Coronavirus relief act. Detour Detroit reports it involves giving landlords up to 90 percent of rent that hasn’t been paid since March 1 if they agree not to proceed with an eviction. Reimbursements are prioritized for landlords with lower-income tenants.

But according to Detour, 75,000 eviction cases are already pending in district courts statewide.

Jim Schaafsma, a housing attorney at the Michigan Legal Poverty Program, estimates the Eviction Diversion Program would run out of money after helping just 20% of the neediest renters in the state cover rent for only one month.

“This program will manage the flow of cases and reduce incidences of eviction, but without more cash in the pipeline there’ll be too many tenants,” Schaafsma says. “What’s needed is hundreds of millions of dollars. What we’ve got now is going to help, but I fear the need and demand will be greater than the resources allocated.”

Detroit, in particular, is at great risk when the moratorium expires, with about 60 percent of households renting, the majority of whom are already considered “rent-burdened” — meaning they spend more than a third of their income on housing-related costs. The effect of mass evictions in the city would be devastating, as the housing market still struggles to bounce back from consecutive waves of mortgage and tax foreclosure following the Great Recession, and an existing eviction crisis ensnares tens of thousands of residents each year.

Tenant activist groups across the state, including Detroit Renter City, are pushing for additional relief.

Modeled off of a plan enacted by Ithica, New York, their proposal would require city council members and mayors to declare a local state of emergency that would allow them to forgive pandemic-related rent debts from residents and small businesses through June 2020 and require landlords to offer lease extensions at pre-Covid rates. The tenants groups are also urging city officials to ask the federal government for a rent and mortgage forgiveness fund

Detroit Renter City says the resolution has been brought to progressive city council members in Detroit, Ann Abor, Ypsilanti, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids. Councilmembers Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Mary Sheffield are targeted locally.

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Read more:  Detour Detroit


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Potd_img_7763_626 Grounded on Lincoln Street on Detroit's west side.

By: Allan Lengel