(DETROIT, MI) – The Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit today announced the creation of its Eviction Defense Practice. The practice will focus on representing people negatively impacted by the economic fallout from the pandemic who are in danger of losing their home, and will play a pivotal role keeping Detroiters housed.
The Eviction Defense Practice will begin taking clients this September. It will be a critical part of NDS’ holistic defense model in Detroit, which works to understand why a client is vulnerable to the ravages of the legal system and to comprehensively meet all their needs. In doing so, we reach beyond our clients’ criminal legal case – in this case, to their housing– to ensure they are able to thrive.
The value of having housing defense and criminal defense in the same office cannot be overstated. NDS Detroit clients will not have to secure another appointment, travel to another office on public transit, complete another intake process, and explain their situation to another office in order to secure the services they need. Instead, their housing lawyer will know the ins and out of their criminal case – and their criminal attorney will know how their work impacts their client’s housing situation – without any additional effort from the client. Their team will be able to work together to secure the best possible resolution for the client on both fronts.
“The holistic defense model means that clients receive world-class defense on every front, and that they have a team working behind them to ensure the very best outcome,” said NDS Executive Director Rick Jones. “We are thrilled to expand housing defense to Detroit. In doing so, we will push back against the eviction machine of Detroit’s landlords, and allow Detroit’s great neighborhoods to remain intact.”
NDS Detroit is announcing this critical service on Juneteenth, a celebration of the abolition of slavery in the United States and the “freedom” of Black Americans across the country. It does so understanding the need to reckon with the racism underpinning housing injustice and mass incarceration in Wayne County and nationwide. Housing instability is one of the most common and damaging collateral consequences of the criminal legal system. Of the 10 zip codes with the highest eviction rates in the city, eight appear in the top 10 zip codes of NDS Detroit criminal defense clients.
“Our Eviction Defense Practice will be tailored to the specific housing crisis facing Detroiters, which has wreaked havoc on our Black and brown neighbors historically,” said Kristine Longstreet, Interim Managing Director of NDS Detroit. “Covid-19 has exacerbated this crisis, and NDS looks forward to keeping our clients in their homes.”
By launching the Eviction Defense Practice in September, NDS Detroit intends to intervene on behalf of clients after the federal eviction moratorium lifts this summer. It is widely expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of eviction filings once the moratorium is lifted.
Even before the pandemic, evictions were a scourge on working class Detroiters: From 2014 to 2018, the average number of annual eviction filings in Wayne County was 59,853, which translates to 23.5 eviction filings per 100 households per year. The difference between a family remaining in its home and being driven from its home is representation. Only 4.8 percent of Michigan tenants were represented in eviction cases filed between 2014 and 2018, compared to 83.2 percent of landlords.
NDS Detroit’s Eviction Defense Practice will have the added benefit of helping develop and advocate for systematic solutions to housing injustice in Detroit. By representing the most vulnerable clients on the ground level, NDS will be able to offer its expertise to researchers and lawmakers to ensure policies are designed to meet the needs of impacted Detroiters, and that tenant rights are protected.
NDS Detroit’s services will supplement those of other legal service nonprofits, including Lakeshore Legal Aid, United Community Housing Coalition, and Michigan Legal Services.
NDS Detroit has served Wayne County since 2018, providing world-class criminal defense to indigent clients. It has handled thousands of felony cases since its inception while advocating for clients inside and outside the courtroom. NDS’ Eviction Defense Practice is made possible by generous primary support from the McGregor Fund and the Michigan Justice Fund, with additional support from the TCF Foundation and the PNC Foundation.
The McGregor Fund is a private foundation established in 1925 by gifts from Katherine and Tracy McGregor “to relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of humankind.” The geography of principal interest is the city of Detroit and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, and its grantmaking prioritizes basic needs, recovery and restoration, and transformational skill building opportunities for teens and adults in poverty. The McGregor Fund has granted over $260 million since its founding and had assets of nearly $171 million as of June 30, 2020.
The Michigan Justice Fund was established in early 2020 to assist groups working to advance effective and equitable justice policy. It has since grown to a funder collaborative of 14 foundations. As an initiative of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Michigan Justice Fund primarily seeks to help stem the flow of individuals into the criminal justice system, support the investment of public dollars to community-driven alternatives to incarceration, and ensures that those returning home after incarceration receive the support they need to flourish.
Sam McCann, Communications Specialist, NDS
Phone: (212) 316-7399