Wayne County officials and partners on Tuesday unveiled a new $20 million rental assistance program that is expected to help tenants outside Detroit pay off months of back rent and utilities, and assist Afghan refugees secure housing.
The county expects to launch the program on Monday. A portion of the $20 million will help refugees resettle through the nonprofit Samaritas.
“The amount of unpaid rent is astronomical — people being behind in utility bills, people being behind in a number of things related to just living,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said during a news conference at the Mackinac Policy Conference.
He pointed to the lifting of a federal eviction moratorium last month that had been in place to keep people housed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More: Detroit tenants at risk of eviction now have three ways to stay in their homes
More: Michigan groups prepare for refugees from Afghanistan
“People are still underemployed, they’re unemployed. They just cannot make those rental payments. So this program is surely going to assist those families throughout Wayne County to get them through. It’ll assist the landlords, some of which may have mortgages,” said Alisha Bell, chair of the Wayne county commission, during the press conference.
The program aims to help refugees secure housing and later down the line, jobs.
Samaritas CEO Sam Beals said the organization expects to resettle 350 Afghan refugees — with the majority in Wayne county — through housing, employment, medical services and transportation.
“Refugees have a long rich history of coming here and working very hard and being very reliable,” he said.
In Michigan, refugee resettlement groups are preparing to help refugees from Afghanistan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also indicated support, saying in a statement last month: “The State of Michigan embraces the opportunity to welcome Afghan families as they find a new home to begin their lives.”
More than 120,000 people evacuated the country, including 5,400 Americans.
In previous years, Michigan took in thousands of refugees from Iraq and Syria as conflicts in those nations drove people out. There have only been 14 refugees from Afghanistan settled in Michigan between Oct. 2020 and Aug. 2021, according to the U.S. state department’s Refugee Processing Center.
The new Wayne County program, funded by federal COVID-19 relief dollars, can cover overdue rent up to 15 months, future rent for up to 3 months, utility bills, internet and relocation costs. To be eligible, a family of four must earn less than $64,000 a year — or 80% of the area median income — and show that the pandemic hit them hard financially, and that they are at risk of homelessness or housing instability. That could look like reduced income or unemployment benefits.
The program does not include Detroit. Last week, Mayor Mike Duggan unveiled a three-pronged plan to keep people housed in the city — free legal counsel for tenants in court, federal dollars for past-due rent and utilities and a chance to find a job through a city program.
The Wayne County program is similar to the state’s existing COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program launched earlier this year and run through housing agencies across Michigan, although it is separate, according to the Michigan State Housing Authority.
Between Aug. 18 and Aug. 30, more than 130,000 people in Michigan said they could face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
More information on Wayne County’s new rent aid program can be found on at www.waynecounty.com/rentalassistance.
Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.
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