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End of eviction moratorium draws protesters to Detroit's 36th district court

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Monday was the first day in five months that Detroit’s 36th district court could start hearing eviction cases—though according to the court,hearings on some 200 eviction cases will not begin until at least next week. The court’s eviction moratorium lasted a full month longer than Michigan’s statewide moratorium.

But its expiration still drew protesters to the court. They say given how hard-hit economically Detroit has been by the COVID-19 pandemic, an eviction moratorium should still be in place, and warn that the court is about to see a slow tsunami of eviction cases.

Khalifa McZeal is with the group Detroit Eviction Defense. She said programs such as Michigan’s Eviction Diversion program, which will cover up to 90% of participating tenants’ rent if their landlord is willing to participate, won’t be enough to protect tenants in trouble with rent through no fault of their own. The state funded that program with fifty-million dollars.

“As soon as those funds start kicking out, believe me that fifty million will go fast,” McZeal said. “And then what?”

McZeal and other advocates said the eviction crisis is likely to be a slow wave.

“So you have basically six months of people who possibly have been out of work and have not paid their rent,” she said. “All of those landlords cannot rush down here at one time. So when they eventually come trickling through, then they’re going to start seeing the cases.”

The protesters say they’re willing to build a movement to prevent evictions. They pledged to do everything they can to give tenants aid, from legal help to physically defending them from eviction if necessary.

Tristan Taylor has led Detroit’s anti-police brutality protests, and heads the group Detroit Will Breathe. He says that movement needs to show up for people facing eviction too.

“This is the movement that has people’s backs,” Taylor said. “And we will defend them no matter what. We refuse to comply with unjust laws.”

On Friday, Chief Judge McConico issued the following statement about the resumption of eviction proceedings at 36th district:

“The 36th District Court Eviction Moratorium extension lasts through 11:59 pm on August 15, 2020. Eviction hearings will commence the week of August 17, 2020. While we have a backlog of approximately 900 cases, based on updates provided by plaintiffs and plaintiff attorneys, we expect to initially hold hearings for approximately 200-300 of those cases. Given the current pandemic and corresponding health restrictions, the Court is still primarily closed to the public. Consequently, tenants can expect to have virtual hearings unless they do not have internet or phone access, in which case the Court will make accommodations for in-person hearings. Legal representation will be provided by UCHC, Lakeshore Legal Aid and Michigan Legal Services for tenants who desire legal representation. All hearings, virtual and in-person, will be conducted at a set time and date. Those who do have to appear at the Court in person will be subject to a health screening process in order to enter the building. Anyone who enters the building will be required to wear a mask and practice social distancing. The Court’s website is a good tool to check on cases and learn about the screening process.
Absent a new directive from the Governor or the President regarding eviction moratoriums, the 36th District Court does not plan to extend the moratorium for this jurisdiction any longer because there are now programs (i.e. Eviction Diversion, free legal representation, relocation assistance, help with utilities, mediation, etc.) and resources in place to help tenants and landlords. Those resources cannot be fully accessed while the moratorium is in effect.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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