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Affordable Housing Development Authority up for final approval in Jackson

Jackson city hall
Posted at 8:20 AM, Nov 23, 2021

JACKSON, Mich. — As Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies' time in office is coming to an end, he’s making one final push to address housing insecurity in the city.

He believes the lack of affordable housing has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s why, with the American Rescue Plan Act dollars, I think it’s prudent to take a large portion of those funds and spend them where they’re needed most: on affordable housing for low income individuals across our community," he said, "and to set up a system and the board in a way that takes some of the politics out of it and puts some of the people that we see doing this work in the community in charge of working to budget and allocate those funds."

The Affordable Housing Development Authority will be up for vote at their next City Council meeting.

The plan would use $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars for homelessness services and for affordable housing gap financing.

“If we aren’t meeting basic human rights and basic needs of our vulnerable and high-risk community members then we aren’t doing the work that is the most basic and the most at need in our community. If we can put money into roads and sewers and street signs, then we can put money into housing for the people who need it the most," Jackson Housing Commission Executive Director Laurie Ingram said.

When their Section 8 wait list opened last month, they had 1,400 applicants and around 600 on their public housing wait list.

“That’s actually lower than it was when we opened the list four years ago. We had 2,500 applicants,” Ingram said.

She believes the pandemic may have kept applicants from trying to utilize public housing.

“There is a poverty problem in Jackson as a whole,” she said. “There’s a homeless problem in Jackson and the only solution for homelessness is housing. That’s the focus of this money: finding ways through shelter, emergency shelter, through transitional housing and then eventually through affordable housing.”

According to U.S. Census estimates, nearly 29 percent of households in Jackson are in poverty. The state average is 13 percent.

They use a system called Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed to show households that earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living for the county. The United Way says 25 percent of households in Jackson fit that description.

Dobies said he’s hopeful that money used for the plan is a floor and not a ceiling.

“Council can continue to put money whether American Rescue Plan Act dollars or other dollars raised through the community into that housing trust fund and then it’ll be up to that board to figure out how to use those funds in a way that kind of exists as a revolving loan fund where money goes out to preserve that housing and there are resources coming back in and creating that trust fund,” he said.

The housing trust fund would be used for five purposes: $500,000 to housing navigators which would assist community members with navigating and applying for federal, state and local public benefits or services, $500,000 towards affordability grants, $500,000 to affordability loans, $1 million to affordable housing gap financing and $1 million to homelessness services and transitional housing.

The money would be available to renters earning up to 60 percent of the area median income and to people who own their own homes earning up to 120 percent.

The median income for an individual in Jackson is $21,401 and for a household it is $35,464, according to the United States Census Bureau.

“One of the big things with homelessness is, if we can get people into housing, we can start to provide them with some of the other wrap around services, kind of a housing-first approach,” Dobies said. “Make sure that those that suffer from either homelessness or housing insecurity can get access to a stable home environment.”

Ingram said when people don’t have stable housing it becomes easy to “find themselves in a cycle of chaos and poverty.”

“When you are paying 40, 50, 60 or 70 percent of your income every month towards your housing, your housing very quickly becomes unstable,” she said .”You can find yourself in a situation that leads to street homelessness or instability and other things start to happen. You can’t pay for your medication, you can’t pay for food because you’re just trying to keep a roof over your head.”

The Affordable Housing Development Authority may give preference to funding projects that create employment opportunities for residents of low-income neighborhoods and public housing complexes in Jackson and may give preference to funding projects that pay a living wage of at least $13.32 per hour plus benefits, indexed to inflation, to all persons employed on said project. That is according to the ordinance.

“If we are spending money from the city and in the case federal dollars, that we’re doing so in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the poverty that we face and in a way that meets some of the other needs that we have around equity in building upon the diversity that we see across our community," Dobies said.

Housing Stability Supervisor Anthony Gittens said Jackson should take an all hands on deck approach to addressing homelessness.

“The barriers that our residents are facing with trying to find housing from just their mental problems all the way to a person that works 40 to 60 hours is extremely hard to find housing in Jackson period,” he said. “We have a large group of people that are struggling that own rental units that just don’t want to take a chance with our low-income people because they just can’t afford to because there’s no services to help them help the residents. It’s extremely broad.”