LANSING, Mich. – A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after the Biden administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September has been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to oust tenants who were behind on their rents.
Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
Michigan suspended evictions from mid-March until mid-July of 2020, but that order was allowed to expire. To help renters catch up and landlords recover missed payments, the state last summer used federal virus aid to create a $50 million Eviction Diversion Program that helped 16,000 households, according to the Michigan State Housing Authority.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
In March 2021, Michigan replaced the state’s Eviction Diversion Program with the federally funded $282 million COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, which the state housing authority expects will help 140,000 individuals. Of the 21,500 applications that have been processed thus far, 16,000 households were approved to receive a total of about $108 million in aid, including $18 million allocated to Detroit. Households or landlords with incomes that are below 80% of their local median amount qualify for the aid.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
The State Court Administrative Office anticipates a large surge in landlord/tenant case filings and having to update procedures to accommodate the backlog. A key priority of the courts has been to connect tenants facing eviction with legal representation and resources to catch them up on their rent, said John Nevin, a spokesman for the state Supreme Court.
In March, Michigan courts, through an administrative order, began suspending proceedings in eviction cases for up to 45 days if the tenant applied for emergency rental assistance.
From March through May of last year, there were about 1,500 eviction cases filed, which was a far cry from the roughly 43,000 filed during those same three months in 2019, according to court data. As for evictions that were carried out, there were 7,230 between April 2020 and this March, compared to 40,905 from April 2019 through March 2020.
HOW AFFORDABLE ARE THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Rent increased in many cities around the country in the past year, including the Detroit metropolitan area, which saw a 8.2% hike in the average amount paid for all rental properties, according to a June report from Realtor.com. The rent on a two-bedroom apartment rose by 7.3%, to $1,325, and one-bedroom apartments rose by 9.6%, to $1,025.
In a 2019 report, the state housing authority said that from 2005 to 2017, more than half of Michigan's tenants were spending more than 30% of their income on rent. Although the number of so-called overburdened renters was slowly declining when the report was published, the continuance of that decline was dependent on the state's economy thriving and it's unclear how the pandemic might have altered it.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
Evictions and homelessness are closely linked, but it's still unknown how many tenants might find themselves homeless once end of the CDC's moratorium ends.
Recent census data paints a worrying picture, though, showing that 80,789 Michigan residents, including 60,940 in the Detroit metropolitan area, said they felt they were likely to get evicted within two months.
Anna Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.