Detroit housing shortage, evictions set stage for COVID-19 housing crisis

May 12, 2020

New research from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan highlights the need for more robust eviction protections in Detroit in light of the number of people who have lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic, existing instability in the city's housing market, and a shortage of livable housing units.

In 2017, 13% of Detroit residents reported being evicted or otherwise forced to leave their housing in the past year, according to a representative survey from the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. That is equivalent to 88,382 Detroiters losing their homes in a single year. Widespread unemployment due to COVID-19 will make it even more difficult for people to pay their rent or mortgage and exacerbate systemic issues in Detroit's housing market. 

Poverty Solutions' analysis revealed an estimated 24,000 fewer units of habitable housing than the number of households in the city, based on data from the city's Blight Removal Taskforce and Housing and Revitalization Department. This means residents who lose their homes are met with a shortage of other potential housing options, and instead they will likely move out of the city, move into blighted housing, double up with other families, or rely on homeless shelters.

Failing to ensure more Detroiters can stay in their homes will increase the likelihood of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the city and surrounding areas, as having a stable place to live is critical to social distancing.

"Unless policymakers take additional steps to prevent residents from being forced from their homes, the city could see a flood of evictions and foreclosures," said Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions. "This loss of housing for residents will not only further damage the city's economy, but it could lead to a second wave of COVID-19 cases as households are forced to move and 'double up' with other families. Not having a stable place to call home makes it extremely difficult to follow social distancing recommendations."

Michigan's statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire on Friday and the federal eviction ban that applies to properties with federally backed mortgages runs through July 25.

The research points to several potential interventions to reduce the number of evictions once the moratoriums end, including:

  • Increase financial assistance for renters. Local dollars allocated to Detroit through Emergency Solutions Grants and Community Development Block Grants could be used to support this type of program.

  • Provide a grace period for the payment of back rent and prohibit evictions or the application of late fees during this time. Such steps would stabilize residents while preventing a surge of eviction cases in the courts. Connecticut has already implemented this type of policy providing tenants with an automatic 60-day grace period to pay April rent and an additional 60-day grace period to pay May rent that can be requested. During these periods, landlords are not allowed to report late rent payments to credit agencies. 

  • Expand investments in affordable housing development. The city's commitment to preserve and build 12,000 affordable housing units by 2023 is an important step, but the data suggests twice as many residential units are needed to deal with the current shortage. In the long term, expanding new construction of affordable housing will bring more stability to Detroit's housing market.

Detroit's Eviction Machine

Detroit Metro Area Communities Study

Poverty Solutions Policy Brief: Losing Home: Housing Instability and Availability in Detroit

This article was written by Michigan News.