Experts: Michigan budget supplemental is the 1st step in addressing housing crisis

By Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance

A recent report by the Lansing-based Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) hones in on ways to achieve housing justice for older adults and people with disabilities, as Michigan continues to top the charts as one of the fastest-aging states in the nation.

“Michigan is experiencing a dire shortage of affordable housing, and the greatest impact is arguably on disabled people and older adults who are more likely to live in families with extremely low incomes,” said Julie Cassidy, policy analyst at the MLPP and author of the “Homes for a Lifetime” report released on March 17.

Affordable housing is for those whose household income is at or below the median. In 2020, the median Michigan household income was $63,829.

Representatives from AARP Michigan, Disability Network Southwest Michigan and Detroit Disability Power also joined in the MLPP’s online panel discussion Friday, in addition to an American Disabilities Act (ADA) specialist and systems advocate.

The groups highlighted the needs of aging and disabled Michiganders while addressing what can be done to have better infrastructure in place to support their needs. They also note the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed housing injustice throughout the country.

Panelists spoke about the influx of funds the state has received from the American Rescue Plan Act to gain ground on this issue, as well as a chunk of funds being allocated to housing issues by the state Legislature. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 565 last week, the main bill for a budget supplemental which includes:

  • $382.9 million for emergency rental assistance to support low income renters affected by COVID-19.
  • $50 million investment for the Housing and Community Development Fund to meet the housing needs of low-income households throughout the state.
  • $50 million to create a missing middle housing gap fund.
  • $50 million for residential home improvements, like grants to incentivize energy efficiency.
  • $121 million to help Michigan homeowners avoid foreclosure.

“We’re very excited about this amount,” MLPP spokesperson Alex Rossman said Friday during the livestream. “But there’s still a long ways to go, and [we’re] hoping that this can be a building block for continued bipartisan work on additional ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] money or the state budget.”

According to the report, ambulatory, independent living and cognitive difficulties are the most common disabilities. Because a growing number of Michiganders are aging, while at the same time the cost of long-term care is also increasing, equitable housing situations are becoming increasingly challenging for older and/or disabled people in the state.

Systemic issues also are a factor.

“It’s really important to acknowledge that structural racism, ableism and ageism are very much intertwined,” Cassidy said. “As a result of policy choices, many of them related to housing specifically, there are significant racial disparities in disability rates.”

Higher disability rates among people of color then contributes to racial disparities in housing instability and homelessness, she said. 

According to the MLPP, nearly one in three Michigan adults have a disability; and people ages 75 and older are two to eight times more likely to have a disability.

More recommendations put forward by the report and advocates include making more affordable housing available overall, offering more accessible or ADA-compliant housing that is also affordable, raising wages so people with disabilities (who are disproportionately employed in low wage jobs) can afford to cover their needs, targeting systemic issues and more.

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