Charity begins at home: Assistance for renters and homeowners is available

This is the third and final part of a three-part series on housing. Last week, we met Cheryl Purtell, a woman living in affordable housing, and learned more about the Affordable Housing Alliance. In the first part, we discussed solutions to housing challenges Midland faces: low-income affordability, neighborhood, and economic development.

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far in this housing series. But what about current renters behind on payments because of COVID-related circumstances? What about those who can’t find rentals within their budget, or those who dream of owning a home but struggle to afford what’s available? What about people still affected by the flood, or those who can’t afford a new roof?

Two Midland County organizations, Home To Stay and Habitat for Humanity, address those needs, and more.

Home To Stay works to diverts homelessness and assists renters

The eviction moratorium, put into place to prevent evictions due to financial hardship caused by COVID-19, was extended for counties with substantial or high rates of transmission. The expiration of the new moratorium is Oct. 3. As of Aug. 10, Midland is at a substantial rate. If Midland County’s transmission falls to moderate, then it will no longer be in effect. 

“We anticipate an even greater number of people coming to us for help,” says Donna St. John, executive director at Home To Stay.

Home To Stay is the Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) for Midland County. They serve as the centralized intake for people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless due to being evicted.

Home To Stay is the Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) for Midland County.Earlier this year, COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) was implemented. It provides help for renters behind on payments or utilities since March 2020. People with income at 80% of the median income or below qualify.

“We are seeing people who are months and months and months behind on rent,” says St. John. “... It’s meant to keep people where they’re at, keep them housed through this time until they can get back on their feet.” 

Midland County received about $2 million to help with these cases.

“The money is definitely getting used,” says St. John. “We are seeing a lot of people using this program. It’s really good because a lot of landlords are getting paid what’s owed to them and a lot of people are able to stay housed.”

Many renters going through the program have never asked for help before, says St. John. Fearful they’ll never catch up on their own, many people are “panic-stricken.”

“So many times the person is applying or we let them know how much assistance they qualify for, and they just break into tears,” says St. John. “They’re just relieved.”

Housing Choice Vouchers can help, when accepted

Home To Stay also adds people to the waiting list to receive a Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) Housing Choice Voucher, managed locally by Community Management Associates (CMA). 

For each voucher, MSHDA calculates how much rent people are able to pay based on their income. Some tenants pay nothing. Their rent plus the cost of utilities must be below a certain amount, which is calculated for each community. The rates for Midland County are as follows: one-bedroom, $689; two-bedroom, $908; three-bedroom, $1284; four-bedroom, $1446.

Applicants are now being accepted for Habitat for Humanity's new multi-unit homes.“Some landlords don’t want to accept that rent amount because they know that they can rent their units for a higher rate,” says St. John. “So it’s hard to find landlords who are willing to participate with MSHDA in the voucher program.”

As of July 2021, there are only six organizations in Midland County that accept the Housing Choice Vouchers:
 
  • The Village at Joseph’s Run
  • Midland Housing LP/Stratford Place
  • FaSon Investments LLC
  • Cleveland Manor (senior housing)
  • Affordable Housing Alliance (accessible units available)
  • Circle Properties, LLC

“I know the legal community has been trying to educate landlords because it’s almost like a poverty discrimination,” says St. John. “You’re discriminating against people not based on race or sex or anything, but you’re discriminating based on that they’re low income.”

Periodically, CMA pulls names from the waiting list and issues vouchers; those who are homeless are given higher preference. Only an allotted amount of vouchers are given to each area.

Home To Stay also works alongside AHA, Shelterhouse, and Midland’s Open Door. Shelterhouse and Midland’s Open Door are at capacity on a regular basis, says St. John.

Habitat for Humanity offers affordable mortgages for future homeowners and home repairs for those in need

Habitat for Humanity builds new constructions that will lead to homeownership. Typically, that’s been single-family homes. After the 2018 Housing Analysis identified economic development and low-income affordability as issues Midland County faces, Habitat has looked into building different types of homes.

“We’re adding multi-family [homes] to our products to serve the affordable housing need in the community,” says Jennifer Chappel, CEO of Midland County Habitat for Humanity. The new units are located on M-20 next to Huntley Lane. 

The new multi-family units are located on M-20 next to Huntley Lane.
They’re now accepting applicants. In order to qualify, applicants must show a need and have the ability to pay. They then purchase the home through an affordable mortgage paid to Habitat.

“We utilize the collective mortgage payments in our portfolio to build more homes for more families,” says Chappel. 

In addition to new builds, Habitat also does home repairs.The homes will be part of a Homeowners Association. It costs extra monthly, but lawn care, snow removal, insurance for the property, and future maintenance is covered.

“Twenty to 25 years down the road when the roof needs to be replaced, they don’t have to come up with the money,” says Chappel. “They’ve technically been saving for it all along.”

In addition to new builds, Habitat also does home repairs. And every August for the last 10 years — with the exception of last year — they do neighborhood revitalization projects for existing homeowners in the community. In one week, 700-900 volunteers pitch in, doing mostly exterior repairs. 

“To date, through repair, we’ve served almost 300 households,” says Chappel.

Free financial education prepares community members for homeownership

Chappel sees the biggest barriers to housing as low-income affordability and financial education. 

According to the 2018 Housing Analysis, roughly 3600 residents make less than $20,000 a year. For those residents to pay 30% of their income on housing — about $500 a month — is almost impossible to find in Midland County. That’s why Habitat works to provide affordable mortgages. Those mortgages, however, have to be paid.

The new multi-family homes will be part of a Homeowners Association. It costs extra monthly, but lawn care, snow removal, insurance for the property, and future maintenance is covered.
“We firmly believe that financial management and education is necessary and needed,” says Chappel.

The aim is to help people establish credit to qualify them for mortgages. Sometimes, says Chappel, applicants are denied mortgages because of lack of income or credit issues and they get discouraged.

“Our goal is not to have people apply and deny them; that’s not serving our mission,” says Chappel. “We need to provide that opportunity and that solution for those individuals, as well as anybody in the community who needs it.”

Habitat for Humanity offers financial coaching to everyone, not just those who are applying for a Habitat home. The coaching teaches community members how to decrease debt, increase savings, improve credit, and prepare to become a homeowner. Habitat for Humanity serves families with  30-60% of the area’s median income, but in some areas, they go up to 80%. 

Anyone interested in repairs for their home, applying to the new multi-family unit or future constructions, or financial coaching, can email or call Katty Owens, Homeowner Services Manager, at katty@midlandhabitat.org or 989-496-0900.

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala grew up in the Tri-Cities and enjoys broadcasting all the positive change happening in Midland. As Assistant Editor for Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are environment, wellness, mental health, and the arts. As a human, Crystal is a serial hobbyist: hiking, drawing, yoga, and playing music. Her work can be seen in The Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News, and The Delta Collegiate. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.