Activists slam Detroit for missing deadline to fund right to counsel for low-income renters

The city was supposed to begin providing free legal counsel for low-income residents facing eviction

click to enlarge "The Spirit of Detroit" statue in downtown Detroit. - Shutterstock
"The Spirit of Detroit" statue in downtown Detroit.

Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration missed the deadline to begin providing lower-income residents with free legal representation when facing eviction, drawing criticism from housing advocates on Tuesday.

The Detroit City Council approved the right-to-counsel ordinance on May 10, and it was supposed to go into effect on Oct. 1.

At a council meeting Tuesday, activists called on Duggan’s administration to fully fund the ordinance so renters can begin getting help.

More than 1,900 eviction cases in Detroit were filed in October, according to Detroit Action, a nonprofit that fought for the ordinance.

“Each day that the city doesn’t follow the law or fund the law, more people are at risk of eviction or homelessness,” Ruth Johnson of Community Development Advocates of Detroit, told council members. “There’s more suffering. It’s getting cold out there.”

Housing activists said there’s no excuse for the delay, noting that the city of Detroit has a surplus in its budget.

“We are calling on Mayor Duggan and the administration to do this. It’s not rocket science,” Tonya Myers Phillips, an attorney with Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition, said. “We are in a strong fiscal position. … We need that money now.”

Duggan’s administration tells Metro Times that the delay is related to bids from vendors who want to do the work.

“We had a number of questions come in from potential bidders, answers were provided and we wanted to give everyone a fair opportunity to respond, so we extended the response date to this Friday,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett, Jr. said. “The evaluation committee will begin meeting next week and once a vendor is selected a contract will have to be drafted. Our goal is to get this contract to City Council before they go on holiday recess.”

Tenesa Sanders, housing organizer for Detroit Action, said she recently met with an unhoused mother who was living in her car with her children. She said “landlords are traumatizing tenants.”

“It’s hurting me to the core,” Sanders said. What are we going to do? We gotta work together to do this.” More than 19,200 eviction cases have been filed so far this year, the highest number in at least three years."

New York City was the first U.S. city to launch a right-to-counsel ordinance in 2017. Since then, other cities that have passed right-to-counsel ordinances include Philadelphia, Newark, Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Denver, San Francisco, and others. 
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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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