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  • Writer's pictureK. Renee

City Council Gives Detroit Tenants “Right to Counsel” - Funds to Pay Legal Fees Not Yet Released

Guest columnist: Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition Project Leader Tonya Myers Phillips, Esq. who is also the director of Community Partnerships & Development for the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice.

The Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition is a group composed of Detroit residents, advocates, community organizations, lawyers, and faith-based organizations that work together because we believe housing is a human right. We are working to ensure that Detroiters who are facing eviction have a right to legal counsel, especially with the knowledge that evictions disproportionately impact seniors, people with disabilities, and households headed by Black women with children.

Keeping people in their homes leads to more stabilized and healthy communities and reduces blight. Lawyers help people stay in their homes, and no one should face eviction alone, especially seniors. In Detroit, one out of every five rental households face eviction each year. A recent study made possible by the Rocket Community Fund, conducted by the Stout global investment bank and advisory firm, revealed that Detroit tenants with legal representation are 18 times more likely to stay in their homes than tenants without legal representation.

DRTC has been successful in its advocacy. Detroit residents organized, fought for, and won a Right to Counsel Ordinance that provides free legal representation for low-income Detroiters facing eviction. The Detroit City Council passed the ordinance unanimously on May 10. In addition to free legal representation, the ordinance requires the City of Detroit to create an Office of Eviction Defense, and conduct community outreach, so residents know their rights. Detroit renters and homeowners facing eviction are covered by this new law and can also receive representation for an illegal lockout.

However, the fight is not over because now that the ordinance has passed, the work must be funded. The Detroit City Council approved three resolutions directing funding to the Right to Counsel: First, in its closing budget resolution, council called for $6 million a year for three years, for a total of $18 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. Second, the council passed a resolution calling for full funding, using ARPA funds, to ensure every eligible Detroiter receives full legal representation. Third, the council passed a resolution calling for an additional $12 million of ARPA funding.

This means that Mayor Mike Duggan must release the ARPA funds approved by Detroit City Council. The City of Detroit received nearly $1 billion in federal funding to implement initiatives like the Right to Counsel. Still, sadly and inexplicably, Duggan has only released $6 million over three years to fund this critical ordinance. Thousands of Detroiters who are eligible for these services will be needlessly evicted unless this ordinance is fully funded.

Winter is upon us and the temperature is dropping. The holidays are nearly here. That’s why the Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition is asking Duggan to release ARPA funds and fully fund the Detroit Right to Counsel Ordinance so Detroiters won’t be evicted and left out in the cold this winter.

To receive updates on this very significant issue, please email DRTC to be added to the mailing list at, or text “DRTC” to 833-258-4698, or find DRTC on Facebook at: and click the “like” button.

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