The city’s housing department is creating a new “emergency displacement division” to alleviate the strain on Detroit’s overwhelmed homeless shelters.
The Detroit Housing Services division was outlined as part of a $203 million affordable housing plan unveiled by Mayor Mike Duggan earlier this summer, which includes $20 million to fund 60 positions and a network of resources for people who are displaced or at risk of losing their home.
David Bowser, associate director of the Detroit Housing and Revitalization Department, said Wednesday that the resources will “take the place” of programs funded with federal pandemic relief, like the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which expires Oct. 14.
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“Philosophically, we believe firmly that an emergency displacement should not result in homelessness,” Bowser said Wednesday during a meeting of the Detroit Housing Task Force. “If you were evicted, if there was a fire in your building, if you have a bad landlord that forced you out of the home, this program is meant to address your needs, provide a case management meeting and get you relocated to a new unit.”
Bowser said that an emergency hotline is expected to be established to coordinate legal aid, rental assistance and other resources for people who call for help.
“We’re looking to alleviate some of the tension on our shelter system and our shelter partners and walk individuals through the programs that they need in order to obtain housing,” Bowser said.
Details about the new office, which is still being put together, were discussed Wednesday amid the meeting led by City Council President Mary Sheffield to provide an update on the state of homelessness in Detroit and help connect service providers across the city. Members of Detroit’s Continuum of Care, a coalition of community organizations that work to address housing instability, warned that the city is seeing an uptick in demand for shelter space after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wish I could say every person who needs emergency shelter will receive a bed,” said Tasha Gray, executive director of the Homeless Action Network of Detroit, or HAND. “We can’t say that right now.”
Detroit’s annual “point-in-time count” of its homeless population shows the number of people in emergency shelters increased by 13% from 2021 to 2022. There were 1,691 people experiencing homelessness counted this year.
Detroit has 997 emergency shelter beds year round and 292 more beds that open during the winter, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. There are 2,947 beds in permanent supportive housing programs for homeless people and 891 beds in rapid re-housing programs.
Gray said the true number of people experiencing homelessness is much higher. The Michigan Statewide Homeless Information System recorded 5,687 people experiencing homelessness last year.
“We don’t know who all is out there, because some people don’t interact with our system,” Gray said. “These are the people we are able to count but there are many people out there who we haven’t even counted. You can always count on this being an undercount.”
Gray said an estimated 60% of the homeless population in Detroit is single, while 29% are families with one adult and at least one child. People under age 24 represent an estimated 9% of the city’s homeless population.
Gray added that Detroit organizations are noticing an “alarming” increase of seniors who do not have housing; just under a quarter of the homeless population is estimated to be seniors.
Detroit received $5.7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for programs to help youth experiencing homelessness. Katie Giza, a program coordinator for HAND, said the funds will allow for the creation of supportive housing exclusively for youth, a rapid rehousing program and a crisis mental health response team.
Several attendees of Wednesday’s meeting voiced concerns over the challenges of keeping families together. Scott Jackson, a system supervisor with housing resource organization CAM Detroit, said shelters have limited space and are not set up to accommodate larger families.
“We know many of the shelters are at capacity right now,” Jackson said.
Allyson Putt, manager of public policy and advocacy strategy for the Detroit People’s Platform, noted that there’s a lack of affordable housing for families in the city.
“We have a growing number of families in shelters, that means a growing number of families need housing and one or two (bedroom) units aren’t going to be adequate to meet that need,” she said.
Julie Schneider, director for the Housing and Revitalization Department, said 5,104 housing units have been built since 2015, with another 8,641 in the construction pipeline. Twenty-three percent of the total units are considered “affordable” for people making less than the median income.
What’s affordable under federal guidelines isn’t affordable for the average Detroiter, however.
The affordability standards are based on the median income for the Detroit-Warren-Livonia metropolitan area, which includes parts of Wayne, Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland and St. Clair counties. The median income for Detroit is $32,498, according to the Census. Median income for a two-person household in the larger metro area is $62,800.
The city expects to see the construction of 712 units affordable to people earning 80% of the median income, which is $50,240 for a two-person household. Another 719 units are priced for someone earning 60% of area median income (AMI), which is $37,680. Scheinder said 575 units are priced for 50% AMI or lower ($31,400), including 314 units at 30% AMI ($18,840).
Sheffield noted that she’s working on an ordinance to use Detroit income as the standard for affordability on certain city development projects, but her office is grappling with unanswered legal questions. A 2021 report from the council’s Legislative Policy Division said Detroit can’t make changes to how AMI is defined by the federal government. However, the city could create a local median income level for projects where Detroit is the only entity providing subsidies.
The City of Detroit uses a variety of funding sources to address homelessness. The city funds street outreach programs, emergency shelters and rapid re-housing programs with $5.2 million in homlessness solutions funding from the federal government.
Schneider said $26.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding was allocated for housing programs, including $16 million to build permanent supportive housing and $3 million to acquire and develop non-congregate emergency shelters.
The City of Detroit also set aside $2.7 million in ARPA funding for two homelessness prevention programs. The first targets households who are “doubled up” with friends or family and need more space. The second targets households needing immediate emergency shelter assistance.