Dollars to keep families in their homes set to expire in December
Advocates held an online town hall meeting Tuesday to publicize important changes to the Eviction Diversion Fund that make it easier for families behind on their rent to stay in their homes. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic outlook is stark.
According to the best estimates, approximately 300,000 Michigan households are at risk for eviction. That is fully 15% of households in Michigan. This means approximately $300 - $400 million in unpaid rent. The consequences of this for families and communities are grave. No one wants to see families become homeless or living in shelters during a pandemic. If landlords cannot pay their mortgages or taxes, local communities will be unable to provide the services that are so desperately needed at this moment.
Many evictions have been stopped by state and federal moratoriums as well as pandemic unemployment assistance. However, pandemic unemployment assistance has expired, and when the latest federal eviction moratorium expires on December 31st, many families will owe 6 to 8 months' rent, which few can afford.
The good news is that there is help. The Michigan Eviction Diversion Program was set up earlier this year to allow those behind on their rent to apply for rental assistance. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) recently made changes to the program to make it more accessible. Renters no longer need to be in eviction proceedings in court to get help. Rather, they simply need to present a letter from their landlord saying that they are behind on rent. Renters can access assistance by contacting their Housing Assistance Regional Agency, who will provide legal aid and negotiate on their behalf. Landlords will get 90% of the back-rent they are owed.
However, the Eviction Diversion Program funds expire on December 30. Unspent funds will be re-allocated by the legislature or sent back to Washington DC. Renters should apply soon to ensure that they can get help while they still can.
Renters and landlords can use the following resources to access the Eviction Diversion Program:
MSHDA information on rental assistance (contains landlord and tenant applications)
Contacts for Housing Assistance Regional Agencies to start the process:
Declaration form to apply for current federal CDC eviction moratorium:
“I hear from people every day about how they have fallen behind on rent during this pandemic, and the Eviction Diversion Program is there to prevent homelessness and keep Michigan families in their homes,” said State Representative Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming).
“If a tenant owes rent for any time since March, that tenant and her landlord should contact their local Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) now to apply for Eviction Diversion Program rental assistance. That assistance is limited in time and amount, so don't wait to take advantage of it. All that's needed is a nonpayment of rent notice from the landlord,” said attorney Jim Schaafsma with the Michigan Poverty Law Center
“Prior to the pandemic, I felt I was financially secure working two jobs. I never would have imagined both abruptly shutting down. Any savings I had to fall back on couldn't possibly cover several months of my industry being shut down,” said Lindsey Katerberg, who worked as a stagehand and waitress in Grandville, MI before being laid off due to the pandemic.
“I want to support my tenants. I don’t know how to keep a roof over all of our heads, the utilities on, and the mortgage paid if they can’t pay rent. Between my family and my tenants, there are seven adults on my property. Only one has been employed since the pandemic caused the shutdown,” said Jessica Westra, a Grand Rapids landlord who has also lost her job.
Westra and Katerberg have also been meeting with legislators to advocate for additional funding for the Eviction Diversion Fund.
Speakers at the town hall meeting also included attorney Joe McGuire with the Detroit Justice Center, Executive Director of Michigan United Ryan Bates, State Representative Scott VanSingel (R-Newaygo), and Flint landlord Marlene Smith.