State and federal protections/aid for tenants coming to an end
Governor Whitmer’s executive eviction moratorium order ended on July 15, leaving various Washtenaw County community leaders that work against housing insecurity to provide aid and protection to at-risk tenants.
Originally published on March 20, executive order 2020-19 prohibited the eviction of tenants or mobile home owners and delayed the deadline for rent payments, effective through April 17. After, a number of updated orders extended those tenant protections up until Wednesday, July 15.
The moratorium prolonged the period in which tenants throughout Michigan can pay their rent dues but did not absolve them of the responsibility to pay it eventually.
Exacerbating the financial insecurity of tenants and low to middle-income individuals alike, the federal subsidization of unemployment benefits under the CARES act will be ending on July 31.
The subsidy provided nationwide relief in the form of a weekly $600, in addition to state-provided unemployment benefits, to individuals whose unemployment was a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic in any capacity (infection of themselves or a family member, their place of work closed, etc.).
Described by some as a lifeline for Americans in an era of widespread financial stagnation, the discontinuation of federal unemployment benefit subsidization could hinder many people’s ability to continue affording essential services, including housing.
Amanda Carlisle, Executive Director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance (WHA), explains that the county has prepared to tend to the community's imminent legal and financial woes.
The Washtenaw County Continuum of Care Board (WCCCB) voted on June 17 to allocate approximately $370,000 of the federal CARES act funding to eviction prevention rental assistance. The purpose of this funding is to assist community members with the back rent that is now due.
An increase in the use of homeless shelters
According to Carlisle, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County (SAWC) housed approximately 150 individuals during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, approximately three times the expectation for the season.
In a statement to the Echo, Carlisle attributes this surge in service to their decision to continue to host individuals who would normally seek shelter in the winter warming program, which closes yearly on April 1.
Winter warming can be described as an “expanded overnight emergency shelter operation”, the goal of which is to keep individuals experiencing housing insecurity from sleeping out in the cold of Michigan’s winters.
Normally closing seasonally in April when it is warmer, some individuals would depart to camp outside, stay with friends or family, or even move out of town. However considering the spread of COVID-19, the SAWC felt that individuals would be safer under the continued provision of the shelter.
SAWC houses individuals at the Robert J. Delonis center on West Huron Street. In the wake of the pandemic, they adopted screening and cleaning protocols to ensure the safety and health of served people. In order to encourage social-distancing, the association expanded housing operations in April to off-site church locations and hotels.
“There is a health screening we do for every individual who stays at the shelter, whether they’re coming in or if they’ve been here for a period of time, multiple times a day,” Dan Kelly, Executive Director at SAWC, told the Echo.
As of the end of June, SAWC had completed over 17,000 screenings since mid-March.
Legal services available for tenants at risk
The WCCCB also voted on increasing staffing at Legal Services of South Central Michigan (LSSCM). LSSCM makes legal services and representation accessible to low-income individuals and families in a variety of legal predicaments, including housing issues,
To emphasize the importance of increased capability of LSSCM, Carlisle cites a study coordinated by the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions.
The study provided a holistic review and analysis of evictions in the state of Michigan and found in a survey of Washtenaw County eviction cases between 2014 and 2018, that only 2.3% of tenants were represented by an attorney, while 90.5% of landlords were represented by an attorney.
Looking to the future
Although state measures and community efforts may temporarily somewhat quell housing insecurity, Washtenaw County housing experts expect further issues later this year.
Ellen Schumeister is the Executive Director of Alphahouse Interfaith Hospitality Networks, an Ann Arbor-based organization that has supported families and individuals seeking housing since 1992.
Schumeister told the Echo she believes competition will arise between incoming students and Washtenaw County natives for the already-limited affordable housing in the fall.
“We don’t have housing for every level of income, especially in the low-income arena,” Schumeister said.
With Michigan’s tenant protection moratoriums behind us, the end of federal unemployment assistance not far ahead, and the potential competition for affordable housing between students and Washtenaw County natives, housing insecurity in Washtenaw County may only worsen.