Washtenaw County organizations offer rent assistance as federal eviction moratorium ends

After a federal eviction moratorium lapsed last week, several Washtenaw County organizations are partnering to distribute state funds to county residents who need help paying their rent and utilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOS Community Services, the Washtenaw County Salvation Army, and Housing Access for Washtenaw County are all accepting applications for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's (MSHDA) COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program. The program launched in March, offering assistance to renters who faced financial hardship during the pandemic, now risk housing instability or homelessness, and make under 80% of their area median income ($54,950 for a single person or $78,500 for a family of four in Washtenaw County).

Barbara Cecil, SOS Community Services development director, says need for assistance has surged as a result of the federal eviction moratorium ending. She notes that many county residents live paycheck to paycheck. If they missed or lost work due to the pandemic, they simply may not have money to pay back rent or utilities.

"Having a moratorium on eviction helps people kind of kick the can down the road," Cecil says. "... But I think that folks are realizing that's going to come to an end, and they're not sure what to do. Some people are looking to move before they get evicted, thinking they can get out from under the back rent that way, but they're not going to be able to. They're looking for solutions."

SOS provided rent assistance to county residents even before the pandemic, but Cecil says renters are currently seeking help with the highest debt SOS staff have ever seen. SOS alone has received 470 applications for assistance so far and added 12 staffers to help process applications. SOS has provided an average of $9,000 in assistance per application so far.

MSHDA is aiming to prevent 50,000-55,000 evictions statewide through the CERA program. Cecil says she hopes word on the program will continue to spread, as she suspects many people who need the assistance don't know about it.

"This program is needed right now if you want to get people back on track and able to live and maintain their housing in a long-term way," she says. "They have to figure out the problems that have piled up."

Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate.

Photo courtesy of SOS Community Services.
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