Commentary

Column: Better housing options are on the horizon with Building Mich. Together Plan

April 12, 2022 7:18 am

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As an organization committed to improving economic security, racial equity and health and well-being for all Michiganders, the Michigan League for Public Policy has been working for years to expand access to safe, affordable housing for all residents. 

Michigan residents’ housing needs — and our related policy advocacy — have been even more important during the pandemic, as “shelter in place,” “work from home” and “online learning” entered our lexicon and our homes have become even more essential to our daily lives.

Some of the League’s housing policy recommendations have been tied directly to the pandemic, recent challenges and related relief efforts, while others have been longer standing priorities for the League and other partners. The League has been advocating for eviction expungement for several years, and the issue has been given new life with Sen. Winnie Brinks’ introduction of a bipartisan eviction expungement bill, the first time a proposal has come before the Michigan Legislature.

Source of income protection also could have a significant impact on Michiganders’ housing needs. Landlords are currently able to reject potential tenants based on how they plan to pay for rent and are often reluctant to accept housing vouchers. Source of income protections would give renters protection from discrimination when applying for rental housing regardless of what type of income they use to pay rent.

Investment in housing needs is another piece of the puzzle. As a recent housing panel discussion noted, the bipartisan $5 billion Building Michigan Together Plan is a major first step in addressing the state’s housing crisis. The funding, mostly from Michigan’s federal American Rescue Plan Act money, addresses a number of housing needs in underserved communities and both urban and rural areas.

The plan includes $150 million for housing and home improvements, such as: 

  • $50 million investment in the Housing and Community Development Fund to meet the housing needs of households with lower incomes 
  • $50 million to create a missing middle housing gap fund
  • $50 million for residential home improvements including grants to incentivize energy efficiency and provide energy assistance
  • $383 million for COVID Emergency Rental Assistance to help tenants facing pandemic-related hardships avoid eviction while also ensuring landlords can recoup owed rent
  • $121 million to help Michigan homeowners avoid the personal devastation of foreclosure

Additional investment in the Housing and Community Development Fund has been a need for some time, as the fund has existed for some time without much in the way of funds. But while noteworthy, a $50 million investment will still fall far short of the state’s housing needs, and we continue to advocate for the development of a permanent, ongoing revenue stream for this fund.

Funding to assist with home improvements and energy efficiency improvements has also been on the League’s wish list for some time. Improving older housing stock is a key way to expand affordable housing options for residents. I lived in an older rental house in my late 20s, and was shocked at how high my heating bills were — while still never quite feeling warm. 

Eviction and foreclosure have been concerns for the League and the Michiganders we fight for, especially during the pandemic. According to Census pulse survey data, as of Feb. 7, 16% of Michigan households with children still said that they had little or no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment on time. The COVID Emergency Rental Assistance has been very valuable to Michigan residents, and this new investment will ensure that that work will continue–along with funding to help residents avoid foreclosure.

The Building Michigan Together Plan shows that regardless of party, policymakers can find common ground. 

With lawmakers returning to the Capitol this week with around $2.7 billion in federal funding remaining and the Fiscal Year 2023 state budget awaiting action, we hope they can build on this compromise and keep working together to address housing access and affordability and the other pressing needs of all residents across the state.

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Alex Rossman
Alex Rossman

Alex Rossman is external affairs director for the Michigan League for Public Policy. Alex previously worked for Democratic Central Staff for the Michigan Senate for almost 10 years, serving as the deputy communications director and, previously, as press secretary and communications advisor.

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