Oct 5, 2022 - News

The truth about affordable housing

Illustration of a dollar sign made out of house keys.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Amid rising housing costs and widespread poverty, local developers and city officials are thinking about redefining the term "affordable housing" to more accurately reflect the city's conditions.

Why it matters: New housing developments across the city often tout the availability of affordable units. But federal guidelines don't fit Detroit.

  • A realistic grasp of the city's affordable housing stock is crucial to meet Detroiters' needs for safe and secure housing.

What they're saying: "When we talk about affordability, we also know that there's a real issue around how we define affordability," City Council President Mary Sheffield said a couple weeks ago while commending affordable options at The Freelon at Sugar Hill.

Between the lines: Under the federal definition, a two-person household making $50,240 — or 80% of area median income (AMI) — would be considered low-income in metro Detroit and qualify for regulated affordable housing.

  • But Detroit's median household income is only $32,498, per the Census. So someone making 80% of that can't realistically pay for "affordable" units under that federal definition.

The intrigue: Community development organizations, lenders and public officials have discussed setting more realistic affordability guidelines specific to Detroit, Kim Faison, Detroit Future City's director of community and economic development, tells Axios.

  • The discussion is part of the organization's work to help ease housing cost burdens that have grown heavier since the pandemic.

Flashback: At the groundbreaking of his new development in Southwest Detroit last month, developer Clifford Brown referred to units priced for someone making about $50,000 — or 80% of AMI — as "workforce housing."

  • "I don't even like to use the term affordable housing because the majority of the city's at 60% AMI," Brown told Axios. "I don't have any false pretense in terms of where a lot of the city is at."

What's next: City officials are opening a housing project today near the Boston Edison neighborhood with some units renting as little as $725 a month.


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