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Eviction meets lack of affordable housing

Last month renters facing eviction got a breather in the form of a one-month extension of the federal moratorium.

The eviction moratorium was put in place to keep people and families out of emergency housing in the wake of COVID-19-related layoffs and closures. Done by way of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a means to keep crowding (and contagion) out of shelters, it stopped landlords from removing tenants who couldn’t pay rent.

Michigan evictions slowed considerably — an Associated Press explainer this week found about 1,500 eviction cases filed between March and May last year, compared to roughly 43,000 cases in the courts during the same three months the year prior.

Actual evictions between this year and the last plummeted from 40,905 to 7,230.

It’s hard to know what happens when the moratorium lifts on Saturday (besides predictable court backlogs) but eviction notices tacked to front doors don’t set anyone at ease — especially given what’s on the other side of them.

Low-income renters face a grim housing picture.

About 86,000 Michiganders said they may face eviction or foreclosure, according to a June/July Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.

If evicted, their options are scant — in some markets, worse than the already tight pre-COVID days.

The state’s shortfall is at about 200,000 affordable housing units, found a National Low Income Housing Coalition analysis, reported by Bridge Michigan.

Worse, wages are so out of whack with rents that people who are on the lowest end of our income spectrum would need to clock 77 hours a week — or two full-time jobs — to afford the average two-bedroom apartment.

Not a single county in Michigan offers fair market rents attainable by someone who works full time for minimum wage. And while markets has forced wages over minimum wage for most open positions throughout Michigan, inflation that we all face has made higher pay feel more like minimum wage for many.

Being evicted narrows options further in the potential stain (and its associated back rent and court costs) brings to a rental history.

Landlords are having problems, too. Billions of federal dollars have been pushed at the problem, a point landlords made as they struggled to pay their own bills without rental income and which eventually hit the mark in the plea to end the eviction moratorium.

The money was impressive — by summer 2020, 530 rental assistance programs were launched nation-wide to a tune of at least $4.3 billion, AP reports.

Unfortunately, that’s where the momentum slowed or branched off.

In a Center for Public Integrity survey of about 70 state and local recipients of 2020 rent help, $1 out of every $6 of that $2.6 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund money diverted to other COVID-19-related expenses like protective equipment, law enforcement salaries and small-business loans. Some states took big bites for administration.

Michigan needs the housing, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week as she announced a plan to use $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to create 2,000 new affordable rental homes, and bulk up incentives for development and rent/security deposit help.

It’s a good step, but the government infrastructure must step with it.

But both landlords and tenant are navigating a horrifically slow bureaucratic churn.

In the first $2.6 billion in CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Funding — freed up for rent relief more than a year ago — more than $425 million, or 16 percent, still hasn’t reached eligible tenants and landlords because of slow disbursements, AP reported Thursday.

Housing advocates recommend tenants “communicate” with their landlords in the interim, even as the moratorium lifts. But for too many, communication will be a notice on the door, and frighteningly few options outside of them.

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