Everyone Needs a Place to Call Home.
City of Grand Rapids
Eviction Prevention Program
2018 ANNUAL REPORT FEATURE STORY | Kathleen O’Brien
As housing prices soar in hot real estate markets like Grand Rapids, renters with modest incomes and flat earnings find it next to impossible to keep up. Today, one in four families spends 70 percent or more of their household income on rent and utilities. It’s a precarious balance that puts millions just one misstep or emergency away from being evicted from their homes.
Eviction is much more than losing a home. The ripple effects that follow can be devastating. Families are uprooted from neighborhoods. Children are pulled from schools and friends. Possessions land in storage facilities that demand monthly payments, or worse, are piled on the curb for any taker. And the stress of the protracted legal process can take a serious toll on a wage earner’s mindspace and well-being resulting in workplace absenteeism, mistakes on the job, and the potential loss of employment. As evicted tenants struggle to figure out their next move, they often find that the legal judgment of eviction has disqualified them for subsequent rentals, forcing them and their families into shelters or transitional housing.
Clearly, eviction takes a huge toll on tenants. But they're not the only ones who suffer. Landlords lose time and money when their income properties are tied up in court. Courts are required to use precious resources on eviction proceedings. Schools struggle as students move in and out of districts without warning. And communities bear the added costs of emergency shelter, transitional housing, or re-housing services.
Keeping families in their homes just makes sense, according to Connie Bohatch, Managing Director of Grand Rapids Community Services. Bohatch led the effort to create an eviction-prevention program that offers great promise for reducing the number of evictions and the cascades of disruption they cause.
With the support of a $150,000 grant from the Steelcase Foundation and $150,000 from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Bohatch launched Grand Rapids’ eviction-prevention program in partnership with The Salvation Army, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the 61st District Court.
Here’s how it works: Before setting court dates for eviction proceedings, the 61st District Court sends a list of at-risk renters to both The Salvation Army and DHHS. Next, a grant-funded Salvation Army caseworker reaches out to individuals, screens their cases, and helps eligible renters apply for emergency assistance. From there, a full-time DHHS caseworker (also grant-funded) reviews the applications, works to resolve any issues that may disqualify tenants from eligibility, and helps those facing eviction access State Emergency Relief and other funds to settle past-due rent. At the same time, court representatives work with landlords, encouraging them to participate in a mediated agreement to accept relief funds and to withdraw the eviction order.
It’s a win-win solution. And it’s working. Of 110 cases the program managed last year, 92 percent of tenants were able to avoid eviction and stay in their homes. All told, the program saved 338 adults and children from almost-certain eviction last year.
Despite assumptions, eviction is not merely a condition of poverty. In fact, because of its far-reaching impact, it’s often a catalyst for poverty. But proactive eviction-prevention programs like these are reducing the number of evictions, helping landlords maintain their income, freeing up the judicial system, easing the burden on social service budgets, improving housing stability, and ensuring that everyone has a place to call home.
A minimum-wage earner must work 73 hours a week to afford a typical, two-bedroom apartment in Michigan.
“Home is where children find safety and security, where we find out identities, where citizenship starts.”
– MATTHEW DESMOND