Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 16, 2013

Program aims to keep tenants in their homes

TRAVERSE CITY — Charles Alexander sat in 86th District Court and uttered that he'd rather be dead than homeless.

Alexander, 51, had 10 days to be out his brother's home, where he rented a room. His name wasn't on the lease, so he had no say when his brother told the landlord he wanted him out. He worried he wouldn't find an affordable place on his disability check of $760 a month.

"I’ve got three eviction notices on my record now and they’re all due to my illness, and I just want a place to live," said Alexander, who suffers from epilepsy and diabetes and said his condition doesn't allow him to work.

Alexander moved into a "beautiful" home a little more than a week later, thanks to Grand Traverse County's new eviction diversion program. The program provides a one-time payment to tenants who are three months or less behind on rent -- if they show they have income to continue on the lease. The idea is to keep people in their home after an unforeseen circumstance, such as an accident or illness. Local organizations, called community partners, foot the bill using their own funding.

Eight families have been helped since the program got off the ground in May.

Alexander couldn't stay in his home, but the Department of Human Services, a community partner, paid one month's rent and security deposit to rent another room for $500 a month.

"It's unreal," he said. "It started off as I thought, 'Now what’s going to happen. I just had three seizures, my brother's kicking me out and I got nowhere to go.' And it’s turned out to be a blessing."

The program is modeled on one in Kalamazoo County and adds to 86th District Court's specialty programs, including mental health, sobriety and veterans courts. Antrim and Leelanau counties are looking to adopt the program, said Court Administrator Carol Stocking.

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