(WSYM) — The number of eviction cases filed between April and December 2020 decreased by 65% compared to cases filed during those months in 2019, according to researchers from the University of Michigan.
The Michigan Eviction Project reports that the percentage of cases resulting in eviction orders also dropped the pandemic. Additionally, the state's Eviction Diversion Program increased the number of tenants receiving legal assistance in eviction cases.
However, researchers said these trends could change if pandemic-era policies and programs wind down.
The findings come from a new report — "Reducing Michigan Evictions: The Pandemic and Beyond." The report follows the Michigan Eviction Project's comprehensive review of evictions in Michigan, released in 2020.
That report found that the state's eviction filing rate was 17% in 2018, the equivalent to one eviction filing for every six occupied rental units in Michigan.
"The drastic decrease in evictions during the pandemic was the result of action taken by federal, state and local governments, the state court system and tenant activists. Some of the emergency supports put in place are set to expire, and stakeholders should act now to permanently reduce eviction rates and the negative outcomes associated with housing instability," said Margaret Dewar, professor emerita at U-M's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, in a press release.
Dewar co-authored "Reducing Michigan Evictions: The Pandemic and Beyond" with Elizabeth Benton, staff attorney at Legal Services of South Central Michigan; Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of urban planning at U-M's Taubman College; and Robert Gillett, attorney and chair of the Housing Committee of the Michigan State Planning Body, a forum for planning and coordinating the delivery of civil and criminal legal services to people with low incomes.
Ongoing analysis by the Michigan Eviction Project shows that before the pandemic—in 2019 and the first two months of 2020—Michigan landlords filed 12,000 to 18,000 eviction cases every month. From mid-March through July 2020—while courts were closed and with eviction moratoriums in place—eviction filings fell to nearly zero. From August 2020 through January 2021, landlords filed 8,000 to 10,000 cases each month.
"The pandemic made evictions a major housing policy focus at the state and federal level," Benton said. "Prior research shows evictions are both a result and a cause of poverty, with implications for job stability, educational achievement for kids and health outcomes."
The Michigan Eviction Project's previous report recommended many of the interventions adopted in 2020, including emergency rental assistance funding, expanding eviction diversion programs statewide, and changing court procedures to give tenants an opportunity to connect with legal services and protect their rights.
Michigan's statewide Eviction Diversion Program, which operated from July to December 2020, dramatically increased the number of tenants receiving legal assistance and representation in eviction cases. EDP-funded legal aid staff provided some level of assistance to tenants in 15,234 eviction cases—32% of the eviction cases filed during the program. In the cases where legal aid provided extensive services, 97% of tenants avoided eviction.
Prior to the pandemic, an attorney represented less than 5% of tenants in eviction cases from 2014 to 2018, compared to 83% of landlords.
"The temporary Eviction Diversion Program provided valuable lessons," Goodspeed said. "The eviction data show the difference that legal representation makes in allowing people to stay in their homes. Legal services directors said they need a long-term funding commitment in order to hire the housing attorneys needed to provide legal services to all tenants facing eviction and people facing foreclosure, which can then lead to eviction.
"The state's executive branch and the State Court Administrative Office need to proactively prepare for the end of the eviction moratorium to prevent a sudden surge in evictions," Gillett said. "They can outline a process to address pending and new evictions, and ensure tenants have adequate time to access COVID Emergency Rental Assistance funds intended to help prevent evictions.
"We need to start now to engage all the stakeholders invested in maintaining a stable rental market in Michigan."