tenant advocates

Free legal help program for low-income Detroiters facing eviction is delayed

A program meant to provide free lawyers for low-income Detroiters facing eviction won’t start Oct. 1, as laid out in an ordinance enacted over the summer, raising concerns among tenant advocates who pushed to get the law passed. Legal services are still available under a statewide pandemic-era program.

Detroit City Council in May voted unanimously to approve the ordinance. It was a move advocates called a gamechanger and a major step forward in a city where tens of thousands of eviction cases were filed each year and where, before the COVID-19 pandemic, most tenants didn’t have legal representation compared with landlords.

The ordinance offers legal representation for those below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines — or a person making $27,180 — in 36th District Court who are facing eviction or involved in other proceedings, such as mortgage and property tax foreclosures.

More: Millions of dollars in rental assistance drying up — and could bring evictions in Michigan

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Conrad Mallett, the city of Detroit’s Corporation Counsel, told the Free Press on Thursday that the Oct. 1 start date will not be met but that the city is working to produce requests for proposals (RFP) and getting through the city’s American Rescue Plan compliance process. The program would be funded, over three years, by $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars and a $12 million donation from the Gilbert Family Foundation.

Mallett said legal services from the federally funded COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program are still available. Advocates have raised concern around rent aid drying up and the lack of assistance to follow.

“I do want to say unequivocally, however, that the CERA program continues to function and that persons who need legal counsel

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