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An office to help Detroiters facing eviction was supposed to open October 1. No one's been hired.

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People calling out Detroit's administration for the delayed start of its Right to Counsel ordinance flooded the city council’s public comment period Tuesday.

As part of the recently enacted ordinance, an Office of Eviction Defense was supposed to be created by October 1.

No one has been hired yet.

The office is planned to have a director and an assistant who will coordinate implementation of the city’s mandate to provide lawyers for residents who make below 200% of the federal poverty line and are facing eviction.

The city plans to contract with a law firm that will handle the cases.

Detroit's Corporation Council Conrad Mallett Jr. explained the delayed start.

"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. The evaluation committee will begin meeting next week, and once a vendor is selected a contract will have to be drafted," he said in an emailed statement.

Mallett said he hopes to hire a director and provide a contract to the city council before the council goes on winter recess on November 24.

Ruth Johnson spoke on behalf of Detroit’s Right to Counsel Coalition.

"Each day that the city does not follow the law or fund the law, more people are at risk of eviction and homelessness, more suffering. It's getting cold out here, folks," she said during Tuesday's city council session.

The coalition said that 1,912 eviction cases were filed in October, and a total of 19,240 so far this year.

Tonya Myers Phillips is an attorney and organizer with Detroit Right to Counsel.

"You don't need anything else but to follow and fund and implement this law and act on the resolutions we've already passed and the law we already passed," she said. "We are calling on Mayor Duggan to do this. We are calling on the administration to do this."

The right to counsel ordinance guarantees funding for legal representation for all Detroiters who are facing eviction or foreclosure proceedings in the 36th District Court and have an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line — that's $27,180 for a single person.

City council unanimously approved the ordinance in May.

Over the next three years, the program will be funded with money from the American Rescue Plan Act — though activists said Tuesday that the office looks likely to be underfunded.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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