The last several months have seen a whirlwind of political activity with the talk of tax reform, proposed elimination of pretty much every program that supports the work of community economic development practitioners across our great state and the discussion of elimination of nearly every safety net that we have in place to help low- to moderate-income families and individuals. If ever there was a time that the sky was falling, it is now. However, despite this, we must continue to not only do the work that we do every single day to help support those who most need our help while continuing to improve our communities for everyone who lives there, we have the additional responsibility of making sure that not only our Michigan legislators know the impact of our work, but our Congressional delegation in DC know the true impact of their decisions.
Recently, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released their annual Out of Reach report, demonstrating the high cost of living in the United States. In Michigan, in order to rent a one-bedroom apartment, a person must earn on average $16.24 per hour, which is Michigan’s housing wage, or work 57 hours per week at minimum wage. If you require a two-bedroom, this bumps up to 73 hours per week that you would need to work at minimum wage. Pair this with the recent report by the Homebuilders Association of Michigan, which states that bank lending for developments is limited while building costs are rising – in part due to a lack of construction workers – creating an even larger need for affordable rental housing. While this is going on, the latest budget draft calls to eliminate or drastically cut HOME, CDBG, NeighborWorks, Section 8, Section 4, Community Service, Rural Development and many other programs that directly impact the ability to develop affordable housing.
While many of you do not work in affordable housing, your programs are also potentially in danger. CSBG, CDBG, Community Service (AmeriCorps and VISTA) and many others are also being weighed for their value. When I ran a neighborhood-based nonprofit, we could not have functioned and grown but for the assistance of AmeriCorps and VISTA members. I know that this is the case for many of you as well. Sadly, at that point, I did not know how important it was to talk to my legislators about the impact of these programs and how they helped to create a number of new jobs, fill empty storefronts with small businesses and alleviate poverty in my community. While we are asking you to do more by doing additional outreach and advocacy, we are here to help.
If you have an event that is celebrating the positive work that you are doing in your community, please don’t assume that your legislators know about it or that they know about the impactful work that you are doing. With term limits, legislators are given less time to truly get to know the many partners in their community. It’s up to us to help them along. We are happy to help to make connections wherever we can. We are happy to make introductions, make invitations and facilitate whatever you would like to see happen. For those of you in key districts, you will likely be hearing from us and asking if you have already made connections. If you have clients and neighbors who have benefitted from your programs, please ask them to share their stories as well. Please don’t hesitate to contact Emily Reyst to share your stories, Jessica AcMoody for connections to legislators, Susan Andrews for assistance with events or Jamie Schriner for anything in general. I can’t stress enough how thankful we all are for your work and that everyone here at CEDAM is here to help.