Elected officials share information at affordable housing summit

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published May 31, 2017

 A panel of experts including Sheffield, HUD Field Director Mike Polsinelli, Executive Director of the United Community Housing Coalition Ted Phillips and Senior Director of Enterprise Community Partners Kylee Mitchell answer questions from the public.

A panel of experts including Sheffield, HUD Field Director Mike Polsinelli, Executive Director of the United Community Housing Coalition Ted Phillips and Senior Director of Enterprise Community Partners Kylee Mitchell answer questions from the public.

Photo by Sean Work

DETROIT — Many Detroit residents gathered at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law May 20 to attend a summit on housing in Detroit aimed at educating residents about their rights and options.

The event was organized by Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield and state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit. They believe there are strong threats to those who require low-income housing and affordable housing to survive. They say these threats include rising rents and property prices, and less government support for affordable housing than in the past.

“(Chang and I) represent the most low-income housing in the city,” said Sheffield. “We decided to host a housing summit so residents could hear from professionals, from groups like the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority.”

The event began with a question-and-answer session where members of the public could ask questions about affordable housing. The questions were answered by a panel of experts including Sheffield, HUD Field Director Mike Polsinelli, Executive Director of the United Community Housing Coalition Ted Phillips and Kylee Mitchell, the senior director of Enterprise Community Partners, which works with developers to make sure capital for affordable housing is available.

“We want people in the city to know their rights as tenants, to learn about the future of affordable housing and to hear from housing experts,” said Sheffield. “I want people to know their rights. We all deserve quality, affordable housing. There needs to be resources for those who are in need of housing like this.”

Following the Q&A, there was a brief lunch and then several workshops where those in attendance could learn about subjects such as how to raise and express concerns about HUD housing, how to save a home from foreclosure and how to ensure tenants’ rights are being respected.

Information and resources were distributed to those who wanted them, including HUD forms and instructions on how to apply to different housing programs. Those who had more questions and those who were unable to attend the event were invited to contact Sheffield at (313) 628-1119 or email CouncilMember Sheffield@detroitmi.gov, and to contact Chang at (517) 373-0823 or email stephaniechang@house.mi.gov.

Both said there often are options available for those who believe they have none. They hope the public takes notice, particularly those they say may be more vulnerable than most, such as immigrants, the disabled and senior citizens.

“One of the things I’m worried about are seniors,” said Chang. “They are worried about their contracts with HUD ending in the next few years. If their rent goes up to a market rate, a lot of those residents will be concerned about their future.”

Chang has proposed a bill — House Bill 4456 — that would allow local governments to regulate rents of seniors and individuals with disabilities to protect them from being charged beyond their income, although she said the future of such measures is by no means a sure thing.

“I think we are at a place and time where there is the beginning of a new formal conversation about these topics,” said Chang. “I encourage people to reach out to their city council members and state legislators. We need to keep the momentum and energy from events like this one going.”

Several of those in attendance voiced their approval of the meeting and said they found it helpful. 

“I found it helpful that they have this program,” said Detroit resident Tim Burch. “They should have had a program like this for a long time, to make it affordable for people to keep living in the city.”

“I didn’t know any of the basic information about homeownership when I inherited my parents’ home,” said Detroit resident Randy Calhoun. “There was a sharp learning curve, and I had to go to a lot of meetings and talk to a lot of people. It’s easier now to learn about housing, thanks to efforts like this.”