Tlaib pushes bill to upgrade housing in 'left behind' communities

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan lawmakers are pushing a bill in Congress to provide $5 billion in housing grant money to assist local communities with development and revitalization efforts over the next decade. 

The legislation, introduced by Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, would create a program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and targeted at communities struggling with urban decay, especially those hurting from the economic damage of the pandemic.

"This would be targeted towards communities like mine that have high rates of eviction, high rates of tax foreclosure, that have high concentration of poverty," Tlaib said.

"It will help not only prevent people from being removed from their homes by foreclosure or eviction, but it also helps with sustaining our housing stock."

U.S. Representative for Michigan's 13th congressional district Rashida Tlaib speaks during the voter mobilization event in Inkster.

The aim is to fund help for residents in need of homeowner rehabilitation aid, weatherization improvements, housing accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities, housing counseling, refinancing and property tax relief. 

"What we saw is that many of the neighborhoods, even in the previous recession, were really not truly invested in," Tlaib said. "There was a lot of tearing down, and not a lot in investing and building up."

She is hoping the legislation will get marked up in the House Financial Services Committee in the coming months. The bill got bipartisan support when Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, signed on as a co-sponsor. Other Michigan co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn. 

Kaptur said she and Tlaib worked for over a year on the bill, called the Restoring Communities Left Behind Act. 

Kaptur said people in Ohio whom she represents and in Metro Detroit have worked tirelessly to rebuild their communities after the Great Recession, but that the economic fallout from COVID-19 have made that important work more difficult.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, speaks in 2017 during a markup hearing on Capitol Hill.

"At the same time as we vaccinate, we will improve to build back better," Kaptur said. "Nothing is more important for wealth creation for individual families than owning a home. ... This bill would provide a lifeline for those families to restore that financial ladder." 

She indicated the legislation supports the purchase and redevelopment of vacant, abandoned or distressed properties to be used for affordable rental housing, home ownership or commercial properties. 

The grant funding may also be used to upgrade parks, sidewalks or street lighting in low-income neighborhoods, according to a bill summary.

The legislation has been endorsed by groups including Habitat for Humanity and the Detroit People’s Platform.

“We work directly with Detroit residents who need help maintaining their roofs and fixing their furnaces to allow them to stay in their homes, and this bill helps rebuild neighborhood economic security by empowering residents and community organizations," said Detroit People’s Platform director Linda Campbell in a statement.