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An investment in affordable housing is an investment in Michigan's children

Feb 11, 2016

The Next Idea

All over Michigan, there are cities and towns that suffer from a lack of affordable housing. The demand keeps growing, but the supply just isn't there. 

Wayne State professor George Galster has a few ideas that could help Michigan tackle the issue:

Credit flickr user woodleywonderworks / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

"I, for one, think that the best thing that we should do in Michigan is to establish a housing trust fund that is funded seriously with a progressive tax system – in particular, a housing trust fund that is funded through a surcharge that comes through the Michigan state income tax of one percentage point for those households earning more than $100,000 a year.

"Frankly, I think that Michiganians who are sort of fortunate as to be in that elite economic position should and would be willing to pay that extra 1% into a trust fund which they knew would be dedicated to providing more affordable housing opportunities for struggling citizens of their state.

"If we were to do this, we could raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which would go a long way towards solving Michigan’s affordable housing crisis. If, for example, we turned around and used that trust-fund money to fund vouchers that [the Michigan State Housing Development Authority] could use to help subsidize the purchasing power of modest income renters and reduce their rent burdens, we could help tens of thousands of low-income renters across the state of Michigan get out of these housing affordability problems.

"Affordable housing is right now having an impact on the quality of the development of Michigan's children."

"It’s not rocket science. We know that the Department of Housing and Urban Development funds vouchers. Michigan could do the same kind of parallel program because we know that only about a quarter of the people who qualify for vouchers in Michigan actually get them, and that’s because Washington has chosen to underfund it, Michigan has chosen to underfund it. It’s inexcusable given the situation we’re in today.

"This is more than simply an issue of fairness. Of course it’s about fairness. I believe that the privileged people in Michigan – and I’m one of them – should be willing and able to contribute to the greater well-being for those Michiganians who are less well off. But it’s also enlightened self-interest for the state of Michigan to fund affordable housing. It’s enlightened self-interest because affordable housing is one of the basic mechanisms for growing a better, stronger, more productive Michigan into the future.

"If a family today has to pay more than 50% of their income just to rent a crummy apartment, imagine what’s left over for enrichment activities for the children in the home. Decent food. Decent recreational opportunities. The answer is not much.

"And so, affordable housing is right now having an impact on the quality of the development of Michigan’s children. Most of Michigan’s children unfortunately are growing up in low-income households who are facing these huge housing affordability problems, and their parents are being forced to skimp on all of the things that are most important for the development of these kids. We are paying a huge price in Michigan for this underdevelopment of our children.

"So if we think about affordable housing as investing in our state’s children – not just as a form of welfare, a form of welfare, but no – a smart investment in our state’s children, then I think we could mount a political campaign that would convince Michiganians that it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do." 

George Galster is the Clarence Hillberry Professor of Urban Affairs and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Wayne State University. 

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