U-M report on Michigan evictions makes recommendations to avoid "looming pandemic eviction crisis"

A new report from the University of Michigan and the Michigan Poverty Law Program (MPLP) shows there was about one eviction filing for every nine rental units in Washtenaw County in 2018 – and that number could rise significantly as a result of COVID-19.


The report, which analyzes eviction data from across the state, shows an eviction filing rate of 11.3% for the county, the 25th highest rate out of Michigan's 83 counties.


"It's not in any way a badge of honor for the county," says Jim Schaafsma, housing law attorney for MPLP, who acted as a consultant to the report. "I think it should be distressing."


At least 20.8% of Washtenaw County filings resulted in eviction. Further analysis of the county data shows massive disparities in eviction filings between different regions of the county. While Ann Arbor's eviction filing rate was only 2.2% in 2018, the city of Ypsilanti's was 20.8% and Ypsilanti Township's was 33.6%. Those areas also have high proportions of residents who are Black and/or rent-burdened (paying more than 30% of their income for rent).


Schaafsma says that illustrates that there are fair housing barriers for county residents of color. He says the high eviction filing rate is the result of a "huge under-supply of affordable housing."


"People are having to make the choice of 'Should I pay for food, shoes, or rent?'" he says.


The COVID-19 pandemic's overall effect on eviction filings depends heavily on government policy. For now, Schaafsma says filings "have probably gone down" due to state and federal eviction moratoria established to help residents who are struggling with income loss during the pandemic. However, Michigan's moratorium is currently set to expire this Friday, June 12. Schaafsma also notes that the state has yet to allocate federal CARES Act dollars for housing assistance, as states like Illinois and Pennsylvania have done.


"We have this endemic housing crisis, even before the pandemic, and now we have this looming pandemic eviction crisis," he says. "If that eviction moratorium is lifted and there's not money dedicated to rental assistance, that pandemic-related eviction crisis will be unleashed. And that could be quite significant and devastating. It's under control now, but there's a possibility it won't be for long."


The report also lays out a set of recommendations for the state to address the situation. They include guaranteeing tenants' right to counsel in eviction proceedings (only 4.8% of tenants statewide currently have an attorney in eviction proceedings), expanding tenants' rights in eviction proceedings, sealing eviction records to prevent tenants being discriminated against on the basis of past eviction filings, and expanding affordable housing.


"I think that these recommendations are fairly modest asks," Schaafsma says.


The full report is available here.


For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.


Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate.

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