As eviction crisis looms, this Detroit group is clamoring for tenants to organize

The past month has been a stressful time for Derrick Horne, who lives in Detroit. He is threatened with the possible eviction of his unit in an apartment building near Dexter Avenue and Davison Streets in the northwest of the city. And because of southeast Michigan The housing market is so tight At the moment it is difficult for him to find another place to stay.

“Finding a place is a top priority and it’s really difficult right now,” he says. “Trying to find a house or a rental apartment to buy is a huge problem. I didn’t know it was that bad.”

The 38-year-old Detroit native has a part-time job at an auto parts factory and also works in a number of side jobs, including music production. Since moving to his current residence in 2017, Horne has experienced numerous problems including concerns about home maintenance, pests, and poor insulation.

Horne says he contacted his landlords Michelle and Courtney Sanders of MCS Community Investments about these issues. But he says they didn’t address his concerns, and as a result, he had to pay the bill for maintenance issues. MCS Community Investments did not respond to Model D’s request for comment.

Horne further claims that his landlords responded to his requests by first increasing his rent and then sending him a letter informing him that he would be evicted.

“She sent me the letter on August 31st. I texted her and asked, ‘Can I have another month?’ She agreed, and three minutes later she texted me again saying, ‘No, we’re done with this relationship, it would be better if we just speed up the process.’ And there I am now. ”

A looming crisis

Instead of giving up, Horne has taken steps to improve his situation. He’s deposited rent into a savings account. He was also in contact with the Detroit Eviction Defense (DED) advocacy group. It is a grassroots organization dedicated to helping homeowners and tenants facing problems like his.

Above all, Horne is interested in learning more about the legality of his eviction notice, which he believes was drawn up by his landlords themselves. Members of DED are working with him to review it and discuss its options. He is happy about the support and is happy to be part of a group that stands up for the rights of tenants.

“I want to take part,” he says. “I want to be an advocate. I just want to get in and stay there because I like that kind of energy. Why not help someone if you can? “

Joe McGuire, an attorney who has been involved with the DED since its inception, says it would be good for Horne to ask questions about his eviction notice.

“Landlords don’t have to go to court for the first eviction notice. You can just write something yourself and send it to the tenant,” he says. “But if they did I would definitely get a lawyer to check it out to make sure it had all the information it needs to have because the landlords who created it slipped in some way could. ”

According to McGuire, many landlords are keen to remove their current tenants immediately as the competitive housing market makes it easier to find new tenants to pay higher rental rates. The situation is compounded by the August Supreme Court ruling to lift the COVID-19 eviction moratorium and end the federal pandemic in September.

Citing court data, Ted Phillips, director of the nonprofit United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), Model D announced that there are currently over 13,100 eviction cases involving Detroit residents in the 36th District Court as of October 1. While the outcome of most of these cases remains uncertain, some of the tenants involved may be eligible for federal financial assistance through the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CERA). Phillips expects the number of evictions in Detroit to rise by the end of the year and warns that city dwellers are now also in direct danger.

“At the moment there are 225 documents [of evictions] that were signed last month, “says Phillips.” These are people who may be days away from being sent out [onto the streets]. “

As a lawyer, McGuire knows the moratorium lag the judicial system is currently facing and believes that this situation needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“We are facing a real crisis,” says McGuire. “We are already in crisis due to the economic burden and the public health impact of the pandemic, and now the few pads the government had to help ease the blow are being removed. So it’s up to us to act before we just get “a tsunami of displacement and displacement that is going to be really bad for everyone.”

Origins with Occupy

DED is no stranger to crisis situations. The organization began a decade ago as an Occupy Detroit project, helping residents cope with displacement problems, some of which were related to the 2008 US housing collapse.

In keeping with these Occupy origins, DED has no centralized leadership. Individual members take turns moderating meetings and important decisions are made by the members of the group. Much of DED’s work is based on grassroots organization; People who have problems related to mortgages or pending evictions use relationships with friends, family members and neighbors, as well as institutions such as churches and unions, to support their efforts to stay in their homes. Members also rely on a variety of tactics to accomplish their goals, including social media, protests, and even direct actions like blocking dumpsters to physically prevent evictions. The organization also puts tenants and homeowners in touch with organizations such as UCHC and Legal counsel on the lakeshore.

In its early days, DED mainly focused on working with homeowners fighting against institutions like banks or Fannie Mae. More recently, there has been an increase in tenants reaching out to them, which organizers say is likely to be with the Home ownership decline in the city of Detroit.

Over the past 10 years, the anti-eviction organization has worked with more than 300 people who have struggled to stay in their homes. Dianne Feeley, retired auto worker and founding member of DED, says work is not always easy, but perseverance can pay off.

“We can’t guarantee a win. We win more than we lose, but we fight hard [institutional] Structures, “she says.” A lot depends on a certain persistence, on perseverance. “

A controversial campaign

Evictions are inherently emotionally charged issues. Battles around them can often be controversial and diverse.

That is certainly true of a recent campaign involving a Detroit resident named Geraldine McKissick. Her efforts to retake a home she once owned led to conflict with a nonprofit called Storehouse of Hope, run by Rev. Joan Ross, a prominent local pastor known for her work on progressive causes.

In 2015, Storehouse of Hope launched a crowdfunding campaign to help families with foreclosure. which grossed over $ 108,000. The nonprofit used this money to buy 15 houses that were put into a community land trust. Storehouse of Hope then reached out to families who had previously lived in the houses and offered them the opportunity to become tenants again with a route to home ownership.

McKissick was one of the people invited to join the program; Storehouse of Hope bought their family home at Wayne County’s public auction after it was foreclosed in 2015 due to tax issues Ross has stated that she was unaware of this until the city inspectors contact you. Storehouse of Hope did not respond to Model D’s requests for comment.

McKissick began withholding rents due in 2019 based on these concerns. She also turned to a number of local organizations for help but was unable to find meaningful support until she contacted DED and became a member.

With support from Detroit Will Breathe and the Charlevoix Village Association, DED ran a loud campaign that included marches, door-to-door campaigns, and social media to return ownership of the house to McKissick.

An agreement was reached in July to return the house to her, according to McKissick, although she is still embroiled in an argument over unpaid water bills. She is grateful for what the campaign has achieved and for the support from DED colleagues.

“It was a pleasure [working with DED], and I stand in solidarity with them, for everything they stand for. Because they came to strike for me and my family. They could move mountains that I couldn’t. “

Organize for change

McKissick’s case is just one of many, and DED members expect evictions to increase significantly in the coming months due to the end of the pandemic moratorium. In preparation for this, DED members will host a free legal and organizational meeting next month on Saturday, October 9, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Stewart Park, Detroit.

In addition, the organization is with a local Coalition urges better access to legal aid for tenants who are threatened with eviction, a right that does not automatically apply to persons involved in civil proceedings. And more generally, says McGuire, DED is working to organize people who live in low-income homes into a movement that can collectively address common grievances and create change.

“It’s a frightening situation right now and we’re pushing for a tenant movement,” he says. “Tenants have power. It must be exercised.”

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