A look back at Clinton Township’s Mortgage Assistance Program
One year after “a leap of faith.
Contacts: Robert Cannon, Supervisor, 586-536-9669; Dan O’Leary, Deputy Supervisor, 586-723-8092; Jim Perpich, Director, Community Relations, 586-495-6468
August 19, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CLINTON TOWNSHIP – To say the success of Clinton Township’s Mortgage Assistance Program hinged on a leap of faith oversimplifies the months of hard work dedicated to helping those facing financial disaster during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Assistant Planning Director Matt Wallace, a leap of faith was essential to streamline administrative red tape and get much-needed rent and mortgage money to Township residents in need at a time when the pandemic settled in for the long haul.
In March 2020, the Federal Government bolstered annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding via the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) representatives, Wallace administered the portion of the money the Township received.
A few months later, in July, Wallace presented a plan to the Township’s Board of Trustees calling for more than $330,000 in CDBG funds to be committed toward a rent and mortgage assistance program. The plan outlined how eligible Township residents in need of help due to job loss or other income hardships caused by the pandemic could apply for up to three months of financial aid.
“When the money first became available, I posed some questions to our HUD representative about rent mortgage assistance,” said Wallace. “HUD asked if we were sure there was going to be a need for that, and I said I was pretty confident there was because of the job numbers and stories we were reading at the time.”
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan’s unemployment rate spiked to more than 23 percent in April 2020. Before then, at 3.7 percent, the rate was the lowest in two decades.
“As soon as the money came in, I was reading stories that up to 40 percent of people may not be able to pay their bills,” said Wallace. “I told Bob and Bruce, unless you have your thoughts on something else, I’d like to put it all towards rent and mortgage assistance, aside from what we give our local agencies, and they were good with it,” Wallace said.
Agencies that receive CDBG funding from the Township include Care House Child Advocacy Center, Turning Point, which offers services to end domestic and sexual violence, and Macomb Country Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (MCREST) congregations helping the homeless.
“It’s critically important that we support our county non-profits that help women, children, and the elderly,” said Township Supervisor Bob Cannon. “I’m proud of the fact that our Board of Trustees continues to do so while also approving innovative ideas to keep people in their homes,” he said.
Bruce Thompson, Director, Planning and Community Development, believes Wallace has gone above and beyond in his work on the rent and mortgage assistance program.
“Matt’s commitment to the people and families who received relief has been inspirational, and he continues to focus on ways to help people financially during this crisis,” he said.
Wallace said, at times, they were “sheriff-at-the-door” situations where apartment complex management called to say if they didn’t receive a check right away, evictions would happen.
“There were times I had to ask for an early release for checks to pay rents immediately, so it was pretty much all I was doing for a few months there,” he said.
Wallace added that the Planning and Community Development Department was “really cranking for a while,” and as far as he knows, the largest number of checks put on the Board’s agenda to approve was 70 during a two-week span.
And the response from those helped by the rent and mortgage assistance program?
“All I can say is there were a lot of people who were in tears at the counter and on the phone because they were so relieved that this problem they were fighting had a temporary solution,” said Wallace. “I was told that we were able to keep people in their apartments, so, yeah, it made it all worth it,” he said.
In November 2020, the initial CARES Act grant to the Township was backed by another for $490,000. Wallace believes Clinton Township is an exception compared to other municipalities because the second grant included more money than the first. He thinks, most likely, the increase was to solely address the potential for homelessness because of people losing their jobs.
All in all, Wallace said the Township dedicated more than $820,000 of its grant money into rent and mortgage assistance, helping 798 people to remain in 330 households. He explained that far more renters took advantage of the program than homeowners, as many were income ineligible, plus mortgage companies and banks were more likely to allow a pause in payments or place the unpaid amount on the backend of the loan.
“The nice thing for our residents was that we got out ahead of the crisis faster than most communities,” Wallace said. “We jumped on it so quickly there were a lot of questions that HUD wasn’t prepared to respond to, so I was conservative and didn’t push boundaries on what we could and couldn’t pay for with the money.”
Wallace’s strategy to focus primarily on rents and mortgages helped speed things up and avoided potential complications and snags by including utility and tax relief. Eventually, HUD heard what he was doing to get money out the door and sent other municipalities his way to mentor their assistance programs.
“What you had was a lot of communities waiting for answers (from HUD) about utilities and taxes, while we took a leap of faith and moved ahead,” he said. “So now, other communities are setting up programs, but the nice thing for us is that we were able to head off hardship for those who were going to be more than three months behind, so it worked out well.”
Wallace is proud that he was able to help people who came in on a Thursday with rent due on Monday, and he was able to have a check ready because of the process he set up.
“I heard time and time again that people couldn’t believe how trouble-free our help was compared to a process taking three or four weeks,” he said.
Wallace believes the quick turnaround for checks is in line with the spirit of the assistance program where people needed to pay their rent right away.
“I was able to work it with landlords to where if I said monies were coming, they would give some slack to people, so we built a rapport with the apartment complexes,” he said.
As for the program’s future, Wallace hasn’t heard if more grant money is coming to Clinton Township.
“Frankly, I hope that if people need more aid, they can go the route of the CERA program (Coronavirus Emergency Rent Assistance) that Macomb County runs,” he said. “It’s a $47 million program through the U.S. Department of Treasury and doesn’t come up against all the strings that you have running it through a CDBG.”
Wallace said strict CDBG regulations limit assistance to just three months, and his department does not have the resources to delve into all the rules and regulations.
“Most people that came to us could have used a lot more than three months,” he said.
Over time, Wallace feels the CDBG program stores a sense of caution in those trying to administer it.
“You want to make sure you’re not stepping outside of the rules that we ran up against that for the assistance program. As I said, there was a leap of faith as we had to remain cautious but also address what needed to be done.”
Wallace recommends contacting Macomb Community Action at 586-469-6964 for those currently needing rent and mortgage assistance.
Photo: Clinton Township Assistant Planning and Community Development Director Matt Wallace.