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'People need help out here': Renters prepare as Michigan's eviction moratorium nears expiration

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Posted at 5:56 AM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 05:56:00-04

(WXYZ) — Michigan's temporary freeze on evictions is set to expire at midnight -- leaving many still struggling to make rent with uncertainty.

Housing attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program Jim Schaafsma expects the backlog in filings to be significant.

"You can pick your natural disaster metaphor — avalanche, tidal wave of cases," he said.

It's estimated there's around 75,000 filings backlogged.

During the moratorium, eviction orders were not enforced. While there's state and federal funding available, Schaafsma said it's not going to be near enough to keep people in their homes.

"It’s going to take time for these programs to take root and for them to begin to successfully operate," Schaafsma said of some of the state and federal aid designed to slow evictions. Programs like the Eviction Diversion Program. Beginning Thursday, $50 million in rental assistance will be made available in lump sum payments to landlords in exchange for allowing tenants to remain in their homes, forgiving late fees and up to 10% of the amount due.

“No Michigander should have to worry about losing their home during a global health pandemic and, at the same time, landlords and management companies need rent from their tenants to sustain their businesses,” Governor Whitmer said in a press release.

Wanda Upshaw lives in New Center. She has a Masters degree and is working on her PhD; she has a decent job, but like so many during this pandemic, was blindsided by a sudden shortage of income.

"I was reduced to part-time," she told 7 Action News. "I fell behind in my rent."

Upshaw received help through the United Community Housing Coalition, or UCHC.

"UCHC was able to negotiate with my landlord, and if they weren’t there I don’t think I would have been in a good negotiation process," she said. Upshaw said she kept her landlord in the loop, and that they were open to finding solutions as well, but during this time -- the moratorium was in place.

"People need help out here. I mean I know they’re getting the unemployment and all that, but it’s not enough. Even though I got the help I’m still paying off a portion," she said.

Upshaw was able to stay in her apartment is now making payments. But as Michigan sees new spikes in COVID-19 cases, Upshaw fears what could happen to others in her situation without another extension of the moratorium. She's not alone; many advocacy groups are pushing for more time.

"We think more time is needed for the moratorium, we’re calling for an extension. A substantial one in order to avoid short extensions that have to be re-upped," said Angana Shah, Policy Manager for Michigan United.

So what should tenants do if they're facing an eviction?

Schaasfma said first, it's important to always check the mail.

"Tenants must get served with eviction notices first and then with evictions complaints," he said.

Second, Schaasfma said it's important to always show up to court, whether it's held virtually or face-to-face. Failure to show up could result in a default judgement that could lead to an eviction order.

Upshaw said before she got a letter from UCHC offering its services, she wasn't familiar with the resource. There's plenty of other organizations out there designed to help renters too, but she said she was unfamiliar with most until she started doing some of her own research.

Below are just some of the resources available to renters who are facing or are concerned about eviction:

-Michigan Legal Help michiganlegalhelp.com
-UCHC 313-355-3352 uchcdetroit.org
- United Way of Southeastern Michigan unitedwaysem.org

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.