Michigan has a housing problem.

According to the 2019 report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), full time Michigan workers need to earn $17.25 per hour in order to afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rent. That’s $7.80 more per hour than minimum wage.

The Michigan minimum wage of $9.45 is simply not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing, especially for those tipped employees who only earn a minimum wage of $3.50 an hour. But we’re not alone. In no state can a minimum wage renter working a 40-hour work week afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit at the average fair market rent. A Michigan worker earning minimum wage must work 58 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment and work 73 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Out of Reach report that documents the significant gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing across the United States. Low wages, wage disparities, racial inequalities and a severe shortage of affordable and available rental homes continue to leave far too many people struggling to keep roofs over their heads.

“In Michigan, 29% of our households are renters but we aren’t ensuring an adequate stock of affordable rental housing,”  said Eric Hufnagel, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. “We had over 63,000 individuals–including families with young children and seniors–experience homelessness in 2017, and that number could start increasing if we don’t address the issue of aligning our housing options with the wages that people are earning.”

And while Michigan is seeing this throughout the state, there are some metro areas seeing even greater disparity between the cost of rentals and wages. Washtenaw County has the highest FMR in the state without wages that match. In order to afford a two-bedroom rental, a minimum wage earner would have to work 93 hours a week – far higher than anywhere else in the state. And with 40% of the metro area’s population renting their housing, that means there’s a lot of need with very little opportunity to find a safe, affordable home.

Washtenaw County is the most expensive place to find housing in Michigan. A minimum wage earner would have to work 93/hrs a week to afford a 2-bedroom rental at Fair Market Rent.

Michigan’s most vulnerable households are struggling to afford rent, even while working full time at one or more jobs.  People we rely on—retail salespersons, fast food workers, personal care aides, and home health aides—can’t afford to pay their rent without spending more than 30% of their income. Nationally, these jobs are projected to experience the greatest growth over the next decade, but they pay less than the hourly wage necessary to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent.

We can and should do more to make housing affordable in Michigan. We’re joining our partner, CEDAM, in calling on Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature to prioritize housing solutions. MCAH believes that finding a permanent funding source for the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund is just one of the ways that we can start to address the housing needs of our state.

Want to join MCAH in our efforts to bring smart policy solutions to prevent and end homelessness to Michigan? Become an individual member today!

By Laurel Burchfield, MCAH Manager of Marketing, Growth, and Development. You can contact her at: lburchfield@mihomeless.org.