Courts in Detroit, Wayne Co. halt evictions

Evictions in the city of Detroit and Wayne County have been halted as the risk of the virus increases, officials said on Wednesday.

Evictions are on hold due to a Centers for Disease Control ban that went into effect late Tuesday, three days after a Michigan state eviction moratorium that has hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent rental aid expires.

On Wednesday afternoon, Detroit District Court officials first announced evictions would be made because the city of Detroit’s COVID-19 transmission rate was not high enough to meet the CDC’s requirements for “significant” and “high” virus transmissions fulfill the new eviction moratorium, which is expected to last until October 3rd.

But hours later, 36th District Court officials reversed course, and CDC data on Wednesday showed that the seven-day case average in Wayne County had driven Michigan’s largest county from a “moderate” spread to “significant”. The CDC uses four categories, “low,” “moderate,” “significant,” and “high” to measure transmission in the counties.

More than 40 of Michigan’s 83 counties are now affected by the eviction ban because of “significant” or “high” transmission rates. Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Monroe counties have “significant” transfer rates, while some northern counties such as Alpena, Iosco and Huron are rated “high” according to CDC data on Wednesday.

Detroit Court officials initially argued in their statement that since the city has its own health department, Wayne County is not subject to transmission rates.

Court officials were expected to send out an updated statement on Wednesday.

On Tuesday officials said the moratorium would affect areas home to 90% of the US population, but Wayne County was initially excluded. Because the CDC uses a 7-day rolling average, the category of a county can change on a daily basis.

Both tenant and housing activists expressed concern on Wednesday whether the recent eviction ban would include Detroit.

“I think the court worked very well with landlords and tenants and minimized the damage because it hurts both sides,” said Ted Phillips of the United Community Housing Coalition in Detroit.

Phillips said his organization has identified 550 eviction cases and the average tenant exposed to an eviction owes an average of $ 8,000 in subsequent rentals. About 110 of these cases could qualify for COVID funds to help with back rent payments.

“The amounts owed are really huge,” said Phillips. “Hopefully the landlords will see that taking the money is a better idea than driving it away.”

Michigan State Housing and Development Authority manages $ 622 million through the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CERA). So far, around 110 million US dollars have been distributed to households.

Officials said $ 404 million would have to be tied up over the next two months. The state’s 32,000 outstanding filings equate to $ 200 million in filings, Bach said. That’s still $ 94 million below the 65% threshold.

More than half of the backlog is related to 17,664 pending applications in Wayne County. That’s 83% of what was submitted.

The program includes up to 15 months of post lease, along with utility support and an internet scholarship for those who qualify. Applicants must earn less than 80% of the median income in the region, which is $ 50,240 per year for a two-person Detroit household, and claim COVID-19 related hardship.

U.S. Democratic MP Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said Wednesday that the new federal moratorium will allow more time for $ 47 billion federal funding to reach renters and landlords who need help.

“We need more time to distribute the money to families who need protection,” said Tlaib. “Now the landlord and tenant can come together and apply for the money. That was the right decision.”

US MP Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, added that local and state officials need to work to get their hands on federal aid quickly to tenants and their landlords and “make this a less complex process”.

Dingell said the displacement of people will only add to the public health crisis Americans are already facing due to the pandemic.

Dingell added, “We want to protect public safety and health and get the dollars to the people who need them.”

Farmington Hills’ real estate attorney Dominic Silvestri told The Detroit News last week that while mortgage holders can get foreclosure on their homes, rental properties have no such option.

“Landlords remain committed, even if no funds are received,” said Silvestri. “We wrongly passed all of the financial responsibility on to the landlords while the rest of the country got help.”

While landlords can initiate the CERA application process, the tenant must still participate, said Katie Bach, spokeswoman for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

And that can take a lot of persuasion, say landlords.

Justices of the 36th District Court signed more than 10,000 evictions in 2019, presiding judge William McConico said in a statement. In 2020 it fell to a small fraction of that, 2,428, and has fallen even lower. This year, 549 eviction orders had been signed, he said.

Things are going to change, said McConico.

“Given that the eviction moratorium has served as an obstacle to evictions due to non-payment of rent, the court expects that the number of evictions could decrease to pre-pandemic levels as seen in 2019,” the chairman wrote Judge.

Editors Melissa Nann Burke and James David Dickson contributed.

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