200 residents call for rent control at Michigan Capitol rally

Detroit Action Renters and Tenant Organizer Tenesa “Ms. Tea” Sanders speaks at a “The Rent is Too Damn High” rally at the Michigan Capitol on September 5, 2023. (Michigan Advance)

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance

Michigan renters aired their concerns at a “Rent is Too Damn High” rally outside the State Capitol on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon.

About 200 attendees came to Lansing to hear stories of climbing rents, unsafe living conditions and organized efforts to tackle the growing cost of living in Michigan. Nationally, experts say wages are remaining stagnant as rents skyrocket.

Michigan is in the top 10 for states with the highest increase in rent prices from 2022 to 2023, according to Rent.com, with rents increasing on average by over 8% with the median rent sitting at $1,366.

Rats, cockroaches and mold are all unwanted and non-paying roommates for many residents in McKinley apartments in Washtenaw County, resident Justin Yuan said. Meanwhile, the McKinley Tenants Association says management owns 60% of workforce housing in one of Michigan’s most populous counties making it “impossible” for people like nurses and teachers to live in Ann Arbor.

“[The association] has people with holes in the walls, other people with collapsed ceilings in certain rooms and we’re just hearing nothing from management,” Yuan said. “We have a basic human need for shelter and no amount of investment, no amount of profits can override that.”

Former Michigan Republican Party Chair and current University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser is the founder of McKinley. His seat on the Ann Arbor university’s governance board has been called into question in the past over possible conflict of interest as a high-volume landlord in the area. 

Yuan calls him a “modern day feudal lord.”

A call to Weiser at McKinley was not immediately returned.

The Rent is Too Damn High Coalition organized Tuesday’s rally and featured speakers from different housing groups and leaders of programs across the state.

The coalition is advocating for a series of policy changes, including an end to Michigan’s statewide ban on rent control, so that local municipalities can set limits on rental prices that would price residents out of an area.

The coalition and several speakers also backed the legislative effort of “renters’ bill of rights,” which aims to repeal the ban on rent control, as well as just-cause for evictions and rights to safe living environments.

People are in pain, Detroit Action Renters and Tenant Organizer Tenesa “Ms. Tea” Sanders said. Detroit Action is an advocacy group in the state that advocates for housing and economic justice for Detroiters. 

Sanders said a person can lose their home fast with the rising rent prices and it can have long term consequences.

“We have people, when our members come in they say, “Tea, I lost everything I got. That dumpster pull up and we have nothing to go,’” Sanders said. “They lose everything: birth certificates, IDs, clothes, and more. What are we gonna do about this rent being too damn high? These babies need to get what they need, these mothers, especially seniors. Oh my God.”

Accessing affordable housing is hard enough, but for people living with disabilities, it can be nearly impossible, which leads to situations like wheelchair users living in rentals where they can access their bedroom in their chair, Detroit Disability Power Advocacy Director Eric Welsby said.

“They’re paying rent that is too damn high in places that they can’t actually live,” Welsby said. “We need good pay. We need affordable housing. We need accessible housing. We need neighborhoods and communities that welcome all of us.”

Welsby said that access to fair pay is another issue Michiganders with disabilities face. Rebecca Kasen, executive director of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, added that women, who on average nationally are paid less than men, struggle to thrive without rent control.

“Has anyone here ever moved?… It’s expensive, and it’s miserable and if every year you’re gonna have to move because your landlord could raise your rent by 50, 60% if they felt like it … it’s too much,” Kasen said. “The fact that we do not have rent control in Michigan or even are allowed to have that rent control is disgusting and it is disproportionately harming women.”

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