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Muskegon landlord forgives April rent for 26 families

Community enCompass informed 26-tenants of the rent forgiveness April 1, and the goodwill gesture wasn't an April Fool's Day joke.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon-based Community enCompass informed families in 26 rental units Wednesday, April 1 that it was forgiving rent payment for the month.

Those payments were due by the end of the week. Some of the tenants learned by letter. Others learned of the news in person as a Community enCompass staff member delivered the letters.

"Many of them opened the letters right on their front doorstep, and just tears of gratitude," Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, executive director of Community enCompass said.

The Community enCompass board voted Monday to approve the rent forgiveness plan.

"We've never done anything like this in our 30 years of providing affordable housing," Rinsema-Sybenga said. "lt felt really right to offer this."

The first of the month is often a difficult day and week for the working-wage families Community enCompass rents to, and even more difficult this month given the significant impact COVID-19 is having on the U.S. economy.

RELATED: Coronavirus live updates, April 1: Michigan reports 1,719 new cases, 78 deaths

"This is a sign of hope for some people in a time that's filled with anxiety and fear," Rinsema-Sybenga said.

Some Community enCompass tenants have lost jobs, others are working significantly reduced hours. 

The tenants include single individuals in small apartments to large families renting a whole house.

The rent forgiveness is being done in part because expected stimulus checks from the US government aren't yet in the hands of Americans.

"Even a really short stretch of unemployment can get them too far behind to catch up on their rent," Rinsema-Sybenga said.

Additionally, Community enCompass is engaging county-wide with tenants, landlords and social service organizations to encouraging tenants to pay rent first whenever possible, and urging landlords to temporarily stop eviction notices, work with tenants to develop rent payment plans, and waive late fees on missed payments.

"This is a tough time on all of us, tenants and landlords, everybody," Rinsema-Sybenga said. "We know that every landlord is not going to be able to do this."

The Community enCompass office is closed to the public, but staff are available by phone Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

People experiencing a housing crisis can call Community enCompass at 231-728-3117. 

An excerpt from the letter sent to the tenants reads:

“We know this unprecedented situation impacts everyone differently: some of you have lost your job or seen reduced hours; some of you are now taking care of kids all day long, trying to balance parenting and homeschooling; some of you are taking care of elderly, vulnerable family members; some of you are wondering how you are going to pay the bills and whether the arrival of the stimulus checks will be “in time”; all of us are feeling stress and anxiety about what the future holds. 

We want you to know that we are thinking of you. The Community enCompass Board of Directors met this week Monday and approved a proposal to forgive your rent for the month of April. This rent forgiveness is unprecedented in our 30+ year history of providing affordable rental housing.  But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.  And we want to do something meaningful to show you that we value you as neighbors and as part of our tenant family.”

The non-profit is seeking donations to help subsidize the cost of the April rent forgiveness decision. More information on how to contribute can be found on the Community enCompass web-site.


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