When Michigan voters head to the polls tomorrow, housing affordability will surely be at the top of their minds as they choose their preferred nominee for the 2020 presidential election. More than 45% of Michigan renter households were cost burdened in 2018—meaning that they spent more than 30% of their income on housing—and nearly a quarter spent more than 50% of their income. With such high costs, families are forced to make excruciating decisions about how they will pay for other necessities like healthcare, education, or building savings for the future.
An underlying problem here is the shortage of affordable housing—a lack of supply adequate to keep up with the need. While it may be intuitive to think that this scarcity is entirely due to a shortfall in the production of new affordable housing, there is another piece of the puzzle that is equally important: a lack of resources to preserve the affordable housing that exists today.
Why is preservation such a critical tool in the fight for housing affordability? Look no further than Detroit where there are nearly 10,000 affordable housing units with federal affordability requirements expiring by 2023. Many of these units, plus thousands more, are faced with financial distress and/or physical deterioration. The challenge that Detroit is facing—a drastic reduction in the number of affordable units, all disappearing in the very near future and possibly displacing thousands of low-income families—requires a strategic and proactive response.
Today, the City of Detroit announced a new multi-organization partnership, led by Enterprise Community Partners, that will respond to this challenge head on. The Preservation Partnership Team will work with affordable housing residents to identify and preserve key properties that are otherwise set to lose their affordability status. As part of this work, the Team will ensure preservation plans are informed by residents’ needs and incorporate energy-efficiency measures to support long-term financial and environmental sustainability. The Team will also develop a technical assistance program to assist property owners with preservation, as well as implement an innovative lease-purchase program for residents in single-family LIHTC rental units.
Without a supportive federal partner, this work would not be possible. For starters, the Preservation Partnership itself is being partly funded by federal resources—including funding from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. As the team works to achieve our preservation targets, federal programs like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), the Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), and the Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers Program will be essential tools in our toolbox.
And yet, federal resources are simply not available at the level that they need to be: in Michigan and across the country, applications for LIHTC resources exceed the number of tax credits available many times over Detroit received 40% fewer HOME dollars in 2016 than it did& in 2002 and HOME Program funding is lower than it was 10 years ago; the Section 8 waiting list is hundreds of thousands of households long and can take years to work through.
In Detroit, we are excited to launch the Preservation Partnership and tackle the urgent work of preserving our city’s affordable homes; but we know that neither we, nor any locality, can undertake a problem of this scale and magnitude on our own. We need strong federal champions, including a White House that is committed to fully funding the programs that will allow state and local jurisdictions to close the housing affordability gap. As the 2020 presidential election moves forward, we urge all candidates to make affordable housing a key priority, both on the campaign trail and in any future administration.