According to a plan from the W.E. Upjohn Institute, significant housing concerns are confronting Kalamazoo County. Community Homeworks is helping to ease the problem.
The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners commissioned the Kalamazoo County Housing Plan to coincide with the launch of resources of the new Kalamazoo County Housing for All (HFA) millage. The 0.75-mill HFA millage covers eight years, from December 2021 to December 2028, and provides rental subsidies, permanent housing, and other supportive services for Kalamazoo County residents.
The W.E. Upjohn Institute led “extensive focus groups and sent a survey to 35,000 county residents,” says Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County Government’s housing director. “One of the goals that ranked highly was the rehab of existing housing stock.”
Community Homeworks’ representatives attended many of the planning sessions held by the W.E. Upjohn Institute. The organization is now working with renters and homeowners on the portion of the plan that calls for rehabilitating existing housing, says executive director Chris Praedel.
“One of the takeaways from the comprehensive study was that homeowner rehabilitation is a top priority for our county residents,” Praedel says. “The study reinforced the need for our services in the community.”
Community Homeworks is assisting renters and homeowners to:
- Maintain and improve their homes
- Make their homes healthier and safer
- Increase energy efficiency with energy-efficient home updates
“It’s one of the goals of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners to rehab the county’s older, owner-occupied housing stock,” Balkema says. “Many homes in Kalamazoo County have issues that require repairs. This is exacerbated by the fact that much of the housing stock is older than 50 years old.”
Praedel agrees that the aging housing inventory is a substantial challenge – one Community Homeworks works tirelessly to address so residents can live safely in their homes.
“Many of our neighbors have nowhere else to turn when a health or safety-critical repair issue arises in their homes,” Praedel says. “These homeowners are our neighbors, fellow churchgoers, and coworkers.”
The plan notes that rising costs mean many moderate and low-income households are paying more for their housing than is financially viable. Rent or mortgage costs plus utilities, taxes, insurance, repairs, and other incidentals should not make up more than 30% of a family’s income.
However, more than 15,000 Kalamazoo County renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing. These households, known as “cost-burdened,” are at greater risk of homelessness.
For example, 13,000 Kalamazoo County families earn less than $35,000 a year, which means, at the 30% threshold, their rent/mortgage and other housing expenses would need to be less than $875 a month. However, according to RentCafe.com, the average monthly rent in Kalamazoo is $1,199. This often leads low-income residents to live in substandard housing that needs repair.
The W.E. Upjohn report also says that more money is needed to help homeowners pay for repairs to home foundations, roofs, insect and water damage, plumbing, heating and cooling, well or septic problems, or mold issues. The report notes that if these issues are left unresolved, the health and safety of residents could be in question. In addition, if homes aren’t repaired, they could become unlivable, which only adds to the county’s housing concerns.
“We’re pleased to be able to assist the county and its residents in addressing the need for home repairs,” Praedel says. “Our goal is to keep as many people as possible in their homes while making their homes safer and healthier.”