Groups call for legal counsel for Michigan households facing eviction

click to enlarge The Biden administration has extended an eviction moratorium through July 31. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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The Biden administration has extended an eviction moratorium through July 31.

Groups advocating for affordable housing in Michigan said systemic fixes are needed to keep people in their homes once the federal moratorium on evictions ends.

The Biden administration has extended the moratorium through July 31, but said it would be the last extension.

Tonya Myers Phillips, director of community partnerships and development at the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and public policy advisor for Michigan Legal Services, said social-service groups are connecting people with emergency rental assistance, and Legal Services will represent as many tenants as possible, but it won't be enough.

"They'll be somewhat of a bridge, you know, it won't be wide enough to cover everybody," Myers Phillips explained. "So, what we believe is important to do is put together those systemic fixes, such as a right to counsel in times of emergency, but also when this emergency aid runs out."

Michigan landlords file 200,000 evictions a year on average, and roughly 40,000 households lose their homes. Myers Phillips supports a right to counsel for anyone facing an eviction, and argued every renter facing the court deserves legal representation.

She added more than 90% of landlords who file evictions are represented by attorneys, while few tenants have representation, and noted access to legal counsel has proven to reduce evictions.

"When you have someone barely getting by, in a very vulnerable situation, their house is at risk and the disparity of power is very evident," Myers Phillips observed.

Myers Phillips stressed keeping people in their homes is not only good for renters, it stabilizes communities and reduces costs for homeless shelters, emergency visits and other services needed in response to forced evictions.

"We want to also encourage property owners, instead of immediately filing for eviction - that's been the way, that's been the culture in the city far too long - stop, pause, talk with your tenant, offer resources, look for a win-win situation," Myers Phillips urged.

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