I will be visiting Traverse City Wednesday, my first trip to Northern Michigan; it looks like you occupy a beautiful spot on the Earth.
Research tells me it is really hard for low-wage workers and low-income people with disabilities in your community to rent decent housing. In Grand Traverse County, someone has to earn almost $32,000 year to afford the rent on a modest two-bedroom unit. Put another way, someone who is paid the Michigan minimum wage would have to work 83 hours a week to afford basic rent. In the Michigan 1st Congressional District, there is a shortage of 9,179 rental homes that are affordable and available to your lowest income households, those earning about $18,000 a year or less. Sixty percent of renters in this income group spend half or more of their income to keep themselves housed.
These data tell the story of families who have to choose to pay for food or heat, coats or medicine, and often get behind on the rent anyway and lose their homes. Perhaps you know a family struggling to keep a roof over its head or one that has lost its home and has moved in with someone else or is sleeping in a car. Ask a local principal how many homeless children are enrolled in your schools.
And your community is not alone. Nationwide the shortage of affordable and available homes for the households with incomes under 30 percent of their area median is 7.1 million. What’s more, the gap between affordable rental homes and the number of poor families who need them grows every year. There is nowhere in the country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford even a one-bedroom apartment, let alone an elderly or disabled person whose income is from Supplemental Security Income. This why people are homeless in the United States of America in the 21st century.
It does not have to be this way. The federal government subsidizes housing to the tune of $300 billion a year, but only a small portion goes to help the poor. Much of it supports higher-income households through the federal tax code.
The United for Homes (www.unitedforhomes.org) campaign is proposing simple and smart changes to the mortgage interest deduction that will make it reach many more low- and moderate-income homeowners than it does now and raise enough revenue to end homelessness in America in 10 years. Higher income homeowners who have purchased expensive homes will be asked to pay a little more so all American households will be able to afford a basic home. And we can do this without adding one dime to the federal deficit.
Come out Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to the Traverse Area Association of Realtors, 852 S. Garfield Ave., for what will be a lively and informative discussion on the United for Homes proposal and how you can help. I hope to meet you there.
About the author: Sheila Crowley is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
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