Apartments for individuals and couples help address the housing shortage but more housing is needed for families, as well.
Michigan’s future depends on many facets: The state’s slowing population growth is impacting the economy and the workforce, and a lack of funding in education, health, and environment is a health and public service concern. Data from Citizens Research Council of Michigan
(CRC) and Altarum
, commissioned by the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison
, examines what direction Michigan is heading.
The data is presented in a five-part series, Michigan’s Path to a Prosperous Future: Challenges and Opportunities
that examines current trends and trajectories, and includes expert knowledge of challenges from stakeholders. Local, regional, and statewide entities including politicians, business owners, foundation leaders, and community members presented their perspectives during a virtual, statewide discussion on Michigan’s Path to a Prosperous Future town hall in November 2023.
Founded in 1916, the CRC is a privately-funded, not-for-profit public affairs research organization. Its goal is to provide the state with factual, unbiased, independent information concerning local and statewide government finance and organization. The CRC’s work helps to ensure accurate and objective information for policymakers and public policy.
Eric Lupher, CRC president, says the Council of Michigan Foundations
approached the CRC about two years ago about doing a project that looks at where Michigan is and the trajectory for the near future.
“That project covered a lot of issues, and we touched on the housing issue,” Lupher says. “The publication of that five-part series led to the Governor’s creation of the Growing Michigan Together Council
, and they got a little bit deeper into the housing issue. When we had that town hall in November, we got a little bit deeper into the local issues, including housing. It was all an effort to understand what the issues are so we can begin to adjust them.”
Housing: Different issues in different communities
Although the research council takes a look at the state as a whole, Lupher says when it comes to housing issues, it’s a sum of multiple local issues in different communities. Issues in Grand Rapids vary from Detroit, which varies from Lansing, and Traverse City.
“There’s not a state answer to those things,” he says. “The crux of the issue is that Michigan’s population hasn’t been growing for many, many years. At some point, developers looked at other states where there is population growth, uprooted, and went where the money is. Michigan lost a lot of developers, and in the first decade of this century, the economy got really bad leading up to the Great Recession
Lupher says this problem became even larger during the second decade of this century, when a housing shortage was felt across multiple subsets of the population.
“There was a shortage of houses for young adults to move into, for low-income people to find housing, and for middle-income people to grow out of their starter home into their second home,” he says. “It’s a culmination of all those things that created a housing crisis in Michigan today. It’s a buildup of the issue over time, getting us to where we are now.”
Chelsea Dowler, CRC analyst specializing in Michigan’s affordable housing
issues, says the pandemic brought on different demands and impacts. Statewide, the housing demand increased for young people.
“We actually lost renter households because households started moving into home ownership, which is when you start to see the surge in for-sale housing,” Dowler says.
With that demand came higher interest rates, which concerned both developers and those seeking to purchase a home. As inflation impacts other industries and sectors as well, the cost of living continues to rise, causing more concerns.
“Some families are being squeezed even more by their budget,” Dowler says. “There’s the saying that ‘the rent eats first,’ and that is true for most people as they prioritize their housing over food or medical bills. As the price of housing increases, everyone has to make sacrifices elsewhere in the budget. That is a concern, especially among the lowest income households. When you have households already paying on average 30 to 50% of their income, there’s just not a lot left over for all the other things.”
Dowler says one of the most important takeaways from the report is that it took a very long time to get to our current situation — and will take time to shift that, too
“Affordability for the middle income seems to be a medium- to short-term problem that hopefully the market will be able to work out,” she says. “In terms of redesigning society for population growth and longterm affordability, I think that’s going to take some time, potentially decades.”
Data from Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC) and Altarum, commissioned by the Governor's Office of Foundation Liaison, examines what direction Michigan is heading.
Multi-prong strategy needed
Dan Gilmartin, CEO of the Michigan Municipal League (MML),
works with over 500 varying-sized communities across the state. Since 1899, the organization has worked to research, advocate, educate, and plan for cities and villages. During the CRC town hall, Gilmartin noted that in his talks with local officials across the state, housing is the number one issue they’re working on.
“Communities are working on providing housing at all levels,” he says. “There’s a need for more senior housing, a need for what we call the missing middle housing, which is sort of workforce housing, and a need for longterm housing. The more focus from the state and federal level, the more resources that are available to help provide for more houses being built and refurbished, the better off we’re all going to be.”
In the Detroit community, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation
(DHDC) is one local organization that’s “all hands on deck.” Angela Reyes is the executive director of the organization, which has provided bilingual, culturally relevant services, opportunities, and advocacy for youth and families since 1997. Reyes founded the organization to help young adults get out of gang activity and into jobs.
During the CRC town hall, Reyes discussed the state’s population growth problem in comparison to those with rising population numbers. Reyes says a big reason behind our loss is a lack of supportive policies encouraging the immigrant population.
“A lot of our policies in the state, especially right now, are anti-immigrant,” she says. “If you want the population to grow, you also have to create policies that will support and encourage people to move into the state. One of the only populations, and the primary one that has been growing in the state, is the Latino population.”
Historically, Reyes says the biggest concentration of the Latinx community has been in Southwest Detroit, but gentrification has had a huge impact on those numbers.
“Houses that used to cost $80,000 five years ago are now going for $200,000 to $300,000. Rent that used to be $500 to $600 a month is now $1,500 a month or more now,” Reyes says. “Many people can’t afford to live in Southwest Detroit and are moving downriver. We have a significant growing population in downriver communities — Ecourse, River Rouge, Melvindale, and Lincoln Park.”
According to Reyes, the problem now is that these communities don’t provide bilingual services. As the population changes, the communities have to adapt to meet the needs of their new residents. DHDC helps fill that gap.
As a HUD-certified housing counseling and financial literacy provider
, DHDC has helped local residents with Detroit Land Bank houses and helps prepare people to get ready to purchase homes in areas like those downriver. DHDC also has a small business development program
, Side Hustle to CEO, assisting with business plans, establishing an LLC, and gaining access to grants.
“We have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit and ability in our community,” Reyes says. “We have about 30 vendor markets throughout the year, with 20 BIPOC vendors per week. We’ve worked with 300 small businesses to help them establish their business. We’re working with people to help increase their income so they can afford to buy a house.”
Within the Detroit Latinx community, high dropout and low literacy rates persist. Reyes says other professional training can help families gain employment, build careers, and create generational wealth for their families.
Another major issue, many of these residents do not have a bank, making them unable to access traditional financing and mortgages to purchase a home. Reyes says the third issue is that developers building affordable housing are mainly constructing apartment buildings.
“I understand that’s profitable, but that’s not what our community needs,” Reyes says. “We have large families. Single-family homes are the preference. Apartments are okay for a couple or an individual, but the housing being developed is not meeting the needs of our community.”
Reyes hopes to see more statewide funding and regional resources for the Latinx community in Detroit, to ensure growth and prosperity.
“Sometimes, we work really hard to improve our communities, but then the people who live here can no longer afford to stay in the community because it begins to get gentrified. That’s what we see happening right now in our community.”
Gilmartin considers the state’s housing needs as an in-depth issue requiring all hands on deck to provide solutions and change.
“It is truly a statewide issue,” he says. “We see it in all communities large and small. It’s too big to handle in one place, it requires a multi-prong strategy in all layers of government, the private sector, and everybody working on this. We’ll keep at it.”
Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at email@example.com.
Photos by Doug Coombe.
Photo of Detroit homes by Nick Hagen.
Courtesy photos provided by Citizens Research Council.
Supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and the Community Economic Development Association
(CEDAM), the Block by Block series follows small-scale minority-driven development and affordable housing issues in the state of Michigan.