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Federal eviction moratorium leaves uncertainty among Michigan renters

eviction notice
The latest federal eviction ban protects roughly 90 percent of the U.S. population. (Shutterstock)

Aug. 6: CDC raises Michigan COVID risk level: Why it matters, and why it may not

Thousands of Michigan renters won a temporary reprieve from eviction this week, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a partial extension of its pandemic protection order that expired Saturday.

The new 60-day CDC order, issued Tuesday, bars evictions in areas of “high or substantial” spread of COVID-19, which is estimated to apply to 90 percent of the U.S. population. The previous order had no geographic limits.

According to a CDC tracking map, 31 of Michigan’s 83 counties have high or substantial spread, including more urban areas like Muskegon, Saginaw, Ingham, Oakland and Macomb counties, as well as rural counties scattered around the state. It currently leaves out protection for some major urban areas including Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint.

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But with the shifting spread of the coronavirus driven by the Delta variant, that eviction shield could change week by week — adding uncertainty to which areas are protected.

The new order also is likely to face a legal challenge by property owners and real-estate agents, adding another layer of doubt over who is protected. Bridge Michigan reached out to landlord associations in Ann Arbor, Saginaw and Flint for comment Wednesday on the eviction extension, but did not immediately hear back.

“That number will probably change daily,” said Jim Schaafsma, housing attorney for the Ypsilanti-based Michigan Poverty Law Program, a nonprofit legal support organization.

That will make application of the order “interesting and challenging,” he said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer initially ordered a moratorium on evictions in March 2020, to protect households as the pandemic swept through the state and raising unemployment. In September, the CDC issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions that was to expire at the end of 2020 but was extended four times prior to Tuesday.

Before the latest CDC order, thousands of Michigan renters faced potential eviction orders beginning as early as next week as tenants had 10 days to pay off back rent under a Michigan State Supreme Court administrative order implementing the CDC guidelines.

Schaafsma estimated that evictions would climb by a couple thousand households a month with expiration of the previous CDC order, in addition to an estimated 10,000 additional cases where landlords held off filing for eviction because of the order.

With this week’s extension of the CDC order set to expire in October, Schaafsma said, thousands of families will continue to find it hard to afford or plan for rising rental rates.

“The lack of affordable housing is at the root of so much of this,” Schaafsma said.

A renter making minimum wage would have to work 77 hours a week — nearly two full-time jobs — to afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Michigan. That’s according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which released a report in July on the widening gulf between wages and housing costs among renters.

“It’s a problem created over time and it isn’t going to be solved overnight,” said Robert Goodspeed, a University of Michigan assistant professor of urban planning, following a 2020 report on evictions across the state.

That was before the pandemic added to the economic stress of low-income families.

Goodspeed found Michigan’s overall eviction filing rate was 17 percent in 2018, or the equivalent of one eviction case for every six occupied rental units. Genesee County topped the state’s 83 counties with an eviction filing rate of 26 percent, and many of the state’s top counties in southeast Michigan.

The Wayne County city of Romulus, where 17 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2019, topped cities of 20,000 or more people with an eviction filing rate of 47 percent.

Research suggests eviction is not only a symptom of poverty, but can deepen its impact. People who are evicted from their homes are more likely to suffer poor health and from depression, in addition to its effect on children.

“The data is clear on the negative impact of eviction on families and kids,” Schaafsma said.

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