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Working Detroiters Need More Affordable Housing

Low wages, high prices destabilize families and neighborhoods

March 9, 2005 | By Charlene Crowell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Home ownership is a distant dream for many working Detroiters.
Many Detroiters find it difficult to buy or rent homes they can afford. Recent studies confirm what we heard from citizens who attended our community forums: In Detroit, both working-class people and those living in poverty have difficulty finding decent, affordable housing.
Generally, experts define housing as “affordable” when it consumes no more than 30 percent of the occupants’ income.
Paycheck to Paycheck, a study conducted for the National Housing Conference, examined 136 metropolitan areas. The study, conducted this spring, found that many citizens with fulltime jobs couldn’t afford to own homes in the communities where they work. It also found that many wage earners pay too much of their take-home income just to rent a one- or two-bedroom apartment.

The pattern is strong in Detroit. According to a May 2003 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, the median price of a Detroit home was $156,000. A buyer needs an annual income of $48,621 to purchase that home, but this exceeds the average annual salaries of fire fighters ($39,740), licensed practical nurses ($38,670) and administrative assistants ($36,770).

These workers could likely afford Detroit’s average fair-market rent of $638 for a one-bedroom apartment or $771 for a two-bedroom unit.
Bruce Giffen
  Affordable housing
However, the two-bedroom apartment is out of reach of school bus drivers ($28,288) and hairdressers ($29,240), while pre-school teachers ($22,942), and bank tellers ($22,484) cannot afford even the one-bedroom model. Renting a typical two-bedroom apartment in Detroit requires an hourly wage of $14.83, or $30,846 annually; renting a one-bedroom apartment requires $12.27 an hour, or $25,521 annually.

The problem is acute in Detroit because it is an exceptionally poor city. Urban Hardship, an August 2004 study by the State University of New York, found that Detroit’s population has become smaller and poorer over the last three decades.

By 2000, 21.7 percent of Detroit residents lived in poverty. The only glimmer of hope: In 1990, Detroit was the nation’s fourth-poorest city; in 2000, it was the nation’s sixth poorest. Clearly, the city has an unusually large number of people — with and without jobs — who cannot afford decent housing.
“Detroit needs more affordable housing to help stabilize the living situations of low-income families,” said Linda Smith, director of U-SNAP-BAC, a nonprofit housing development corporation in Detroit. “That would prevent families from moving from neighborhood to neighborhood and provide a much healthier, more stable environment for raising children and building quality communities.”

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