Jennifer Hollins, a single mother of three boys was working, while at the same time finishing her education to join the medical field. Jennifer faced eviction when she lost her job due to scheduling conflicts with her classes, close to the completion of her schooling. While she knew she would better be able to provide for her family with her new credentials, the loss of work and threat of eviction compromised Jennifer’s chances to finish school and climb the career ladder.
In Muskegon County, the rate of eviction is 4 times higher than the national average! In response, community leaders have come together to address this community issue, creating the Eviction Prevention Program (EPP). Started as a pilot project a year ago and supported by funding from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, EPP gives families facing eviction the possibility of an “out”, the hope for stable housing - allowing children to remain near their school and friends, allowing parents the support of the community they know. Many of the families in EPP come to the program after an unexpected, health-related event that caused a loss of income, forcing them into difficult choices such as paying rent or buying groceries to feed their families.
Jennifer was quickly able to find a new job, but given the weeks without income, while she waited for her first paycheck, she wasn't able to make ends meet. However, with the promise of income from her new job, Jennifer qualified for EPP, and was also able to access homeless prevention emergency funds available through Community enCompass, in partnership with MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority). These resources allowed Jennifer to catch up on her rent, cancel the eviction (without incurring a judgment on her record), complete her education and obtain full-time work.
Jennifer now works in the medical field, is pursuing a promotion, has paid $300 in advance on her rent, and is working towards her dream of owning her own home. In short, EPP was transformational in the life of Jennifer and her family. In partnership with local agencies such as DHHS, MOCAP, and Mission for Area People, as well as landlords who often extend the eviction deadline for families in EPP, we have been successful in maintaining housing for over 75% of the families who enter EPP.
While there are many successes in EPP, there are others that aren’t so successful. Community enCompass’ emergency rental assistance funds are limited and can only be used to assist our most vulnerable neighbors. The problem of eviction is much larger.
Many of the families who come through EPP earn too much to qualify for the emergency rental assistance funds from MSHDA, but not enough to stay above the average cost of living in Muskegon county (According to a recent United Way report about 40% of the population in Muskegon County is ALICE--Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed). Current allocations for rental arrears for vulnerably housed families can’t keep up with what’s necessary given the number of evictions, even when you consider the cumulative resources of the community agencies who assist with housing crises. Without a steady source of funds designated for rental arrears for EPP participants, the program will be hard-pressed to maintain momentum.
For a more in-depth look at eviction in Muskegon County and the partners involved in the EPP program, please check out this recent article by the Muskegon Times.