Correction: This story has been updated to say the public hearing will be on May 10. An earlier version of this story said the public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, April 26.
Detroit City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday, May 10 on a proposed “Right to Counsel” ordinance. The legislation would pay for free legal representation for low-income Detroiters facing issues related to eviction, tax foreclosure and land contracts.
“It’s about stabilizing our neighborhoods,” says Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield, the councilmember who introduced the ordinance. “When people are evicted it causes blight, which continues to deteriorate our communities and our neighborhoods.”
Between 2014 and 2018, Detroit averaged 29,330 eviction filings per year, according to a report published by University of Michigan Poverty Solutions in May of 2020. According to Eviction Lab, there were 6,664 evictions in Detroit in 2016.
Listen: Tonya Myers Phillips says the ordinance is important because the city is facing a housing crisis.
“Detroit has one of the highest eviction rates in the nation, per capita. It’s astounding,” says Tonya Myers Phillips, an attorney with Sugar Law Center and a project leader for the Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition, an advocacy group that’s been working with Sheffield on developing the ordinance for the past couple years. “And even now, after the pandemic, the rate has gone down somewhat with emergency rental assistance programs being available. But unfortunately, we see that it’s going back up again.”
Many people have spoke about their support for the “Right to Council” ordinance during the public comment portion of recent Detroit City Council meetings. Stephen Rimmer, a Detroit resident and the coordinator of the Tenants Association of New Center Plaza and Marlenor, stepped up to the podium on April 12. He asked the council to think about what it would be like to go through an eviction proceeding without a lawyer, a common occurrence for residents in the city. “I’m asking you guys to imagine yourself in that situation, not knowing any laws or legal jargon, trying to fight for your home,” Rimmer said.
Duggan administration officials claim the ordinance — as written — would send the city back into state financial oversight. Sheffield says she’s planning to introduce changes on Tuesday that would address those concerns.