Gilbert Family Foundation Creates $12M Detroit Eviction Defense Fund

The Gilbert Family Foundation today announced the creation of the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, which will invest $12 million over three years into three Detroit-based organizations that will provide low-income Detroit families facing eviction proceedings with legal representation.
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Jennifer Gilbert (pictured) of The Gilbert Family Foundation today announced the creation of the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, investing $12 million over three years. // Courtesy of the Gilbert Family Foundation
Jennifer Gilbert (pictured), co-founder of The Gilbert Family Foundation, today announced the creation of the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, which will invest $12 million over three years. // Courtesy of The Gilbert Family Foundation

The Gilbert Family Foundation today announced the creation of the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, which will invest $12 million over three years into three Detroit-based organizations that will provide low-income Detroit families facing eviction proceedings with legal representation.

The investment is expected to benefit nearly 6,000 families per year.

Through the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, the Gilbert Family Foundation also has allocated up to $1 million to fund a long-term study into the efficacy of the program as well as the eviction defense ecosystem in Detroit.

Today, 4 percent of tenants have access to representation, compared to 83 percent of landlords. Landlords often evict tenants for reasons completely unrelated to non-payment of rent, such as a desire to increase rents despite an existing rental or land contract agreement.

Additionally, tenants often withhold rent legally due to structural and safety concerns with the home that must be addressed.

The Detroit Eviction Defense Fund will deploy funding into United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), Michigan Legal Services, and Lakeshore Legal Aid to even the playing field for vulnerable renters who are facing these situations. This program and similar efforts will prevent future blight, speculation, population loss, and neighborhood instability.

“The Detroit Eviction Defense Fund will level the scales of justice for vulnerable renters, who deserve the opportunity to remain in their home and enjoy lasting housing stability,” says Jennifer Gilbert, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the co-founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation with her husband, Dan. “We applaud the efforts of Mayor Duggan and Council President Mary Sheffield to successfully pass Detroit’s Right to Counsel ordinance and encourage others to join us in this work.”

Residents can contact UCHC, Michigan Legal Services, and Lakeshore Legal Aid directly to participate in the program.

This investment builds on the city of Detroit’s Detroit Eviction Assistance and Prevention Program (DEAPD), which has been utilizing funding from the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program.

CERA is slated to stop taking new applications once program funds are depleted, potentially as early as June. The Detroit Eviction Defense Fund said it will ensure no loss of service for vulnerable Detroiters, so that they have a fighting chance to remain in their home.

The $12 million investment will comprehensively support full legal access for all families with a child in the home who make 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less. This level of AMI in Detroit for a family of two is $35,800, $40,300 for a family of three, and $44,750 for a family of four.

UCHC, Michigan Legal Services and Lakeshore Legal Aid will manage the program’s administration, hiring and supporting lawyers, legal supervisors, and legal aids who will be embedded in 36th District Court.

“The Detroit Eviction Defense Fund will allow us to continue the critical work of defending Detroiters and their families from landlords who too often try to take advantage of them,” says Ashley Lowe, CEO of Lakeshore Legal Aid. “Without interventions like these, less than 5 percent of renters are represented by an attorney during eviction proceeding. We are grateful to the Gilbert Family Foundation for helping us level the playing field and restore justice to a predominately unjust system.”

On an emergency basis, the investment will also allow UCHC, Michigan Legal Services, and Lakeshore Legal Aid to provide legal counsel to seniors, families with housing vouchers, individuals with disabilities, and more.

Today’s announcement comes less than two weeks after the City of Detroit passed a Right to Counsel ordinance, which provides Detroit renters facing eviction with legal representation in all eviction proceedings and housing-related administrative proceedings which threaten the occupancy of their homes.

The ordinance was introduced by Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield. Given the services are subject to funding availability, the Gilbert Family Foundation’s investment is a significant step forward toward actualizing these rights.

“Housing is a human right, and the Right to Counsel ordinance as well as the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund are a step forward in realizing that right for thousands of Detroit families,” says Sheffield, who worked closely with the Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition in getting the ordinance passed. “Thanks to the Gilbert Family Foundation, this program ensures our renters have the opportunity to remain in the properties that they and their families have made into a home.”

Colonial House
A home in Detroit. Stock Photo

The city, which will create an Office of Eviction Defense in the Housing and Revitalization Department, is set to establish their program by Oct. 1. In addition to city dollars, outside funding of programs like the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund is critical in ensuring the long-term success and viability of the ordinance.

The city’s ordinance will provide legal representation to renters at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $36,620 for a family of two, $46,060 for a family of three, and $55,500 for a family of four.

“Over the past two years, the city has provided legal representation or counseling to more than 14,000 renters facing eviction,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Thanks to this generous donation from the Gilbert Family Foundation, 6,000 Detroit families with children a year can know they are not alone and that they will have legal support to help them stay in their homes. The resources are here. We just need people to take advantage of them.”

The city of Detroit’s DEAPD program has directly helped more than 3,000 renters stay in their homes in the last two years. The 36th District Court sees an average of 30,000 eviction cases annually.

The Rocket Community Fund, the philanthropic partner of Detroit-based Rocket Cos., previously commissioned a study by Stout Risius Ross, LLC (Stout) to determine the potential economic impact of an eviction Right to Counsel in Detroit. Stout, which has conducted similar studies and analyses for Cleveland, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City, and other cities across the United States, is a global investment bank and advisory firm which also provides strategic consulting in socioeconomic issues, including issues related to access to justice and the needs of low-income individuals and communities.

Stout found that 12 percent of Detroit evictions may result in residents leaving the city (approximately 700 households and 2,100 residents each year). The related economic impact of out-migration as well as the social safety net costs caused by disruptive displacement and housing instability exceeded the investment needed to provide an eviction right to counsel.

The study found that the estimated economic benefit of an eviction right to counsel for tenants facing eviction in Detroit is 352 percent greater than the estimated costs of providing representation — or $3.52 for every dollar spent. The $12 million Right to Counsel program is estimated to realize an overall economic benefit of $42.2 million.

“This Right to Counsel program in Detroit, just like in cities across the country, will reduce disruptive displacement, decrease blight, improve health outcomes and increase trust in the justice system,” says Neil Steinkamp, the report’s lead author who leads Stout’s Transformative Change Consulting practice.

“In Cleveland, which is similarly situated to Detroit, 93 percent of tenants facing eviction and represented by an attorney who were seeking to avoid an eviction judgment or involuntary move in 2021 were able to achieve this goal. We are confident this program will be able to achieve similar results here in Detroit.”

The Estimated Economic Impact of an Eviction Right to Counsel in Detroitcan be viewed in its entirety here.

The Gilbert Family Foundation is a private nonprofit foundation founded by Jennifer and Dan Gilbert to accelerate a cure for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) and build economic opportunity and equity in the city of Detroit.

The Gilbert Family Foundation supports groundbreaking, cutting-edge research in hopes of eradicating NF1, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves anywhere in the body. Additionally, the Foundation supports the economic stability and mobility of residents in Detroit by investing in wealth-building opportunities and breaking down systemic barriers.

For more information on the Gilbert Family Foundation, visit gilbertfamilyfoundation.org.

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