Detroit's high eviction rate is uprooting thousands, destabilizing neighborhoods and schools, and threatening the health and safety of residents.
The Detroit News analyzed nearly 285,000 eviction cases since 2009 and found that families in one out of five Detroit rentals face eviction every year.
City ordinance requires all rentals be registered, livable and inspected yearly. But most landlords have operated without city enforcement for over a decade.
Officials said the lack of enforcement contributes to an eviction cycle in which many tenants live in dangerous and unfit homes. They said tenants who withhold rent as a way to compel home repairs consequently have faced eviction. The newspaper found families facing eviction in homes with hazardous electric systems, missing windows and mice infestations.
"How is this possible?" said Latasha Tucker, who stopped paying her rent when the landlord refused to fix a basement filled with sewage and black sludge. "I am being evicted from a place that I shouldn't even be living in ... But we have nowhere else to go. I am lost."
Housing advocates said battles like Tucker's play out regularly in Detroit and that evictions would decline if the city and court enforced safe housing.
"They (tenants) are just settling for the best of the worst," said Charles Hobbs, an attorney for nonprofit Street Democracy, which advocates for Detroit renters. "They are putting up with having to get space heaters. They put up with mold and a whole long list of things they shouldn't have to. They are afraid of being homeless."
Housing experts said that evicting thousands of families a year creates neighborhood blight, worsens health problems and can distress children when they're forced to transfer schools because of housing changes.
"This is one of those problems that is foundational," said Abdul El-Sayed, a former health department director for the city. "The problem touches everything."