Questions to Ask: Housing

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County-Level Questions

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) gave states and localities unprecedented funds in the wake of COVID. Kent County alone received $127,605,800 million dollars and the city of Grand Rapids received $92,279,500 million dollars (Senate Fiscal Agency). Other municipalities received money as well, you can view those amounts starting at page 15 here. These funds can be used in response to the public health crisis and within this scope can be used for rent, mortgage, or utility assistance. Some municipalities have already spent some of the funds, while others are still deciding what to do. The county has been getting feedback from residents. 

In what ways will you support using ARPA dollars to help the housing crisis in Kent County?

In many places throughout the US, many local zoning regulations only allow single-family detached houses.  That rules out options for townhouses, duplexes, and apartment buildings. Other times when multifamily buildings are allowed “zoning rules like building height caps and minimum lot sizes often limit the financial feasibility of developing new housing” (Brookings, 2020). Single family residences take up more land and in some cases require lots of land to keep density down. In places where there is quite a bit of growth in the county, “building multiple homes on a given lot is the most direct way to reduce housing costs, because it spreads the cost of land across multiple homes (Brookings, 2020).

How would you support or incentivize municipalities to change zoning laws to build more multifamily housing options?

How will you ensure that both low income and middle class families can find affordable housing?

State-Level Questions (From MLPP Ask Your Candidate)

Since the Great Recession ended, housing prices have risen much more quickly than incomes. As a result, many families—especially those who rent—have to forego other necessities like healthcare and food, experience significant disruptions in school and work due to frequent moves, or become homeless. The shortage of affordable housing has a broader impact on the state and local economies, too—in some communities, employers report difficulty filling open positions because workers can’t afford to live within a reasonable distance of the job. 

The Legislature created a state housing trust fund—the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund (MHCDF)—in 2008 but, until recently, allocated only two rounds of one-time, limited funding to it. Funded projects, which included construction or rehabilitation of affordable housing for older adults, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness, attracted as much as $11 in new investment for every $1 of MHCDF money and created thousands of jobs. In 2022, the Legislature allocated $100 million in federal ARPA funds to the MHCDF: $50 million targeted at housing for families disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and $50 million for “missing middle” housing (families with incomes between 185% and 300% of the federal poverty level). This historic investment, while critical, will only begin to backfill the resources needed to address Michigan’s shortage of available rental units affordable to families with very low incomes, which currently stands at nearly 366,000.

Would you support the creation of a dedicated, continuing source of revenue to fund the MHCDF?

Federal rental assistance is provided primarily through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, under which private landlords receive direct monthly payments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to offset rents for tenants with low incomes. Many landlords, however, will not accept HCVs as a form of payment or include them in calculating whether a tenant has enough income to qualify for a lease. Some landlords similarly discriminate against families with other legal sources of income, such as veterans’ housing vouchers and Social Security.

Would you support a law protecting tenants or prospective tenants from discrimination based on their source of income?

Nearly 200,000 eviction cases are filed in Michigan every year–1 for every 6 renter households. These filings are public records that landlords use to screen prospective tenants. The mere filing of an eviction case can lock families out of rental housing indefinitely, regardless of the circumstances or whether the case actually resulted in an eviction order. The majority of cases are dismissed or settled before an order is entered, and in some cases the court finds in favor of the tenant. Nonetheless, the existence of any history in housing court creates a stigma that may push families into unsafe homes or homelessness.

Would you support a law to provide for the sealing of eviction records under certain conditions in order to strike a better balance between landlords’ right to know about prospective tenants and renters’ need for safe, stable housing?

Federal-Level Questions

Housing is a major issue across the nation and federal assistance could certainly help states address this crisis. The National Low Income Housing Coalition HoUSed campaigns calls for legislative action to ensure that “renters with the lowest incomes have an affordable place to call home.” 

What bills would you support that would help with the supply of affordable rental homes?

As discussed above, eviction records are a substantial barrier to families in need of safe, affordable housing. While state law could be amended to support families trying to get back on their feet following an eviction, action also could be taken at the federal level.

To help protect tenants, would you be supportive of the Tenant Protection Act that was introduced in the last congressional session? “The bill prohibits credit reporting agencies from reporting eviction-related issues unless the case resulted in a judgment of possession, the decision is not being appealed, and the record is not more than three years old” (HoUSed, June 2022). 

The Housing Choice Voucher program is the nation’s largest rental assistance program. Due to severely limited funding, 3 out of 4 income-eligible households never receive any form of federal rental assistance (See Figure 1 here), and the few that do receive vouchers typically spend a long time on the waiting list first–in Michigan, an average of 26 months. Once a family finally obtains a voucher, they have only a few months to find a place to live. Numerous barriers, including the shortage of affordable units and landlord refusal to accept vouchers, make it hard to meet that deadline.

Would you support the Ending Homelessness Act of 2021 (H.R.4496)? The bill proposes to establish a universal voucher program to ensure every eligible household can receive rental assistance, bans source of income discrimination, and invests $5 billion over 5 years in the national Housing Trust Fund to support states in increasing the affordable housing supply and combatting homelessness. (HoUSed, June 2022).

What bills or actions would you take to help the supply of affordable homes to purchase?