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High volume of COVID rent assistance applications slowing fund dispersal in Wayne Co., Detroit

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Posted at 3:15 PM, Sep 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-06 18:33:19-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — If you are facing eviction, right now you can be your best advocate, and also your worst.

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The focus now is helping people stay in their homes and helping landlords get the rent money they're owed in Michigan. Much of that is happening through hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money for COVID Emergency Rental Assistance or CERA.

In Detroit, just before the pandemic, 36th District Court Chief Judge William McConico designed it so tenants could be represented by a lawyer, and that is helping stave off a wave of evictions.

"What you're seeing more of are termination of tenancy cases where the landlord simply doesn't want the tenant to be attending anymore," said Judge McConico.

In Wayne County, a man who is an eviction bailiff himself received that $25,000 in federal funds through CERA to pay his rent in Detroit. The attorney for the property owner says he still owes about $30,000. It's unclear which agency approved his federal funding, but in Wayne County, the average household that qualifies receives just over $8,000.


CERA County List 8.31 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Kelly Rose, who oversees CERA, says dispersing the funds in Wayne County and Detroit is taking longer than usual, mostly because of the volume of applications. The latest numbers show the agencies in Wayne County have only been able to process 26-percent of the applications they've received.

"What's happening is that they're being told that the funds are not available, or the agencies who are assigned to disperse the funds, do not have adequate staff to carry out the implementation of the program. We feel this is totally unacceptable," said Abayomi Azikiwe from Moratorium NOW, a coalition aimed at stopping foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs, during a press conference.

"To some extent, I would agree, the process isn't moving fast enough, we do need to make it work faster," said Rose.

She added, "About 80% of our counties are processing applications in less than five weeks. But we do have a couple counties where there's a higher application volume, like Wayne County that's having about 38% of our applications, where those processing times are longer."

The Wayne Metro Community Action Agency is one of the many organizations processing applications for CERA's rental assistance money.

"Wayne Metro received $100 million from the federal government to invest here in our communities ... to stave off evictions and to make our property owners and landlords whole," said Mia Harnos, chief strategy and innovation officer for Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency.

"In July, we distributed 10 million. In August, we distributed 20 million," said Harnos.

Harnos says they have hired on additional staff, working holidays and overtime to assist people, because they're receiving an average of 30,000 calls a month about rental assistance.


CERA FAQs by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

"We recognize the dire situation, we recognize the need, we hear and see it every day. We are a six -day-a-week now operation," said Harnos.

"I was not expecting there to just be this explosion of evictions. But ... there's an uptick in cases than in a normal time, because there have been cases that have been bottlenecked, and you've had landlords not even filing certain evictions because of the moratoriums," said Judge McConico.

Harnos says they are distributing about $7,900 per household for rent assistance, and that they have staved off about 11,000 evictions in Wayne County, and in Detroit, she said that number is about 6,000.

"People have to stop being afraid to come to court. And that's the biggest reasons for the evictions that are going to go, is going to be because of defaults," said Judge McConio.

If you're a homeowner, wondering if there's financial assistance for you, click here to learn more.