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Detroit city attorney: Office of Eviction Defense to begin working for tenants on March 1

person with head in hands looking at eviction notice
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Detroit’s Right to Counsel ordinance was supposed to take effect in October, ensuring that low-income residents have a lawyer when they’re facing eviction.

That hasn’t happened: People are still getting evicted in the city without legal representation.

The city has established an Office of Eviction Defense and hired two people to staff it.

During a Tuesday City Council session, the United Community Housing Coalition was officially chosen to solicit bids from lawyers to defend those facing eviction and begin working for tenants in the city. That contract is worth almost $5 million.

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield said that the coalition will only be able to serve a fraction of the people who need representation in the city.

"This particular contract will service roughly 2,500 people per year," she said during Tuesday's council session. "That is still not reaching the need, which is roughly around 27,000 cases that are filed annually."

Attorney Tonya Myers-Phillips with the Right to Counsel Coalition spoke during the public comment period of Tuesday's meeting.

"It’s not enough to provide full legal representation and community outreach to thousands of Detroiters that continue to face eviction. We want a right, not a lottery system, under-funded grant program. That’s not good enough," she said.

The city’s lawyer, Conrad Mallett Jr., said a call center should be set up by March 1 for low-income residents to reach out about housing needs.

"If we can shape a circumstance with this current delivery system that we're getting ready to put in place that would allow us to have the court assist in greater enforcement of the ordinances that this body has passed," Mallett said, "I think we might be able to really thrust forward the entire legislative desire for improvement that this particular program is designed to represent."

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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