By Roberta M. Gubbins
Two groups of people attended the meeting announcing the new Eviction Diversion Program at 55th District Court in Mason On September 12th. Lawyers representing landlords or tenants and the social service agencies, Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Capital Area Community Services (CACS).
Awareness of the growing problem of homelessness in Ingham County started for Su A'lyn Holbrook, County Director, Ingham County DHS "last year when the cash assistance program was ended and more people were losing housing and our shelters were full."
Ingham County, she explained, is number two in the State in the amount of money spent on shelters. Available data shows that the majority (57%) of those in Ingham County shelters are parents and children. In 2012, there were 8000 requests for State Emergency Housing Assistance.
"If 10% of these families could be kept in their homes," she said, "800 families could be kept from homelessness. When families are in their homes, it helps with employment, with the school system and helps keep families together."
"Eviction also affects the individual's credit rating and this program stops that," she said.
In February 2012 a group comprised of representatives from DHS, CACS, Ingham County Housing Assessment and Resource Agencies (HARA), the Hon. Thomas P. Boyd, Chief Judge, 55th District Court, landlords and lawyers went to observe the Kalamazoo Eviction Diversion Program, which has been in existence for seven years. Unlike Kalamazoo with one district court Ingham County has three district courts that process evictions, therefore, the team had to make adjustments to fit the needs of Ingham County.
"There is a social services side and a court side to the program," said Judge Boyd.
Judge Boyd's first step was to obtain permission from the Michigan Supreme Court to rescind Local Court Rule 4.201 Summary Proceedings to Recover Possession of Premises in Landlord Tenant proceedings.
"The biggest reason we did that was because we now want tenants to come to court," he said. "The court will be a place where they can receive services; where they can engage with the social safety net."
In the beginning, he explained, the program will work like this,
* The tenant will come into court and have an opportunity to talk to DHS workers and others to determine if there is a program that can help them pay the rent.
* The landlord will know on the day of the hearing whether there is a chance the tenant can pay the rent.
The settlement agreement that will come out of the hearing, provides:
* That the tenant will pay the agreed amount within ten days.
* If the tenant fails to pay, the landlord will submit documents to evict and collect past due amount.
* If the money is paid, the landlord will file a voluntary dismissal with the court.
* The tenant will remain responsible for paying any amounts not paid by DHS.
The program is designed to assist those tenants generally able to pay their rent but who have run into temporary financial problems.
Eventually, the program will have a listing on 211, the phone number to call for assistance, where tenants can get help before coming to court.
"In Kalamazoo, when the tenant receives a notice of eviction for non-payment of rent," there is information on where to find assistance."
"Our goal," said Judge Boyd, "is to get the landlord paid so the tenant does not have to move."
The program is scheduled to begin on September 19th in 55th District Court. The Eviction Diversion Program will be available in both the Hon. Donald L. Allen Jr. and Judge Boyd's courts.
Published: Thu, Sep 20, 2012