Whitmer proposes $100M in COVID-19 aid go toward affordable housing

Ben Wilson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to use $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid toward the construction of thousands of affordable housing units statewide.

The governor said she's hoping to gain support from the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature for the allocation that would go into the state's Housing and Community Development Fund and used to build 2,000 rental units. 

The effort, she said, would provide housing for about 6,000 residents, create 1,600 jobs and Whitmer's administration estimates it would spur $380 million in private investment.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, standing in front of the 3D Robotic Printer that is used to make houses, talks about plans to increase affordable housing throughout Michigan during the press conference at Citizen Robotics on July 27, 2021.

Whitmer, during a news conference at the housing manufacturing facility Citizens Robotics in Detroit, called it a "once in a generation opportunity" that would give thousands of Michigan residents "a safe place to call home."

The plan is the latest from Whitmer in recent weeks for how to spend a budget surplus and some of the $12 billion in American Rescue Plan dollars allocated to the state under the Biden Administration.

The governor last month proposed $250 million in federal aid be directed toward enhancements in the state's parks and trails system. She also recommended a $405 million investment in early education over three years and shared a $1 billion plan for small businesses and payroll expenses and a childcare initiative. 

The Housing and Community Development Fund was created in 1966 to create affordable housing for low-income residents across the state. It allows for grants and loans to be distributed for the construction, development and financing of affordable housing units. 

“Safe, affordable housing empowers Michigan residents to lead lives with dignity and respect,” added Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist. “Stable housing allows people to put down roots and become embedded in their communities.” 

GOP legislative leaders are continuing to negotiate with Whitmer over large portions of next year's budget, including the state's remaining COVID-19 relief dollars. 

Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, and Abby Walls, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, couldn't be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan spoke in favor of Whitmer’s proposal during the Tuesday press conference, saying it will help residents in the city and further his administration’s affordable housing initiatives. 

“We are making sure that no one is pushed out of this city because of their inability to pay,” he said. 

Gary Heidel, acting executive director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, called the proposal a “real opportunity” and said he plans to stay in his position long enough to “make sure things happen.”

Gary Heidel, Acting Director, MSHDA, gives his remarks during the press conference at Citizen Robotics about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's proposal to use $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid toward affordable housing.

MSHDA is expected to develop an allocation plan for the housing fund as well as a formula for distributing the funding that will be based on poverty rates and economic and housing distress. 

In a statement Tuesday, the Michigan League for Public Policy noted that even before the pandemic, the state had an affordable housing crisis. 

"There are only 35 affordable rental units available for every 100 families with extremely low incomes," said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the nonprofit group.

"Home prices continue to rise while incomes for low-wage workers are stagnant or have declined," she added. "The housing crisis also disproportionately affects Michiganders of color, and provides a stark example of how explicitly racist housing laws of the past continue to drive segregation, poor health and poverty today. The problem has only become more dire since the pandemic. Fortunately, we’re seeing more push for investment from local, state and federal policymakers."