Rents Rise, More Are Homeless, Health is More at Risk

By Dennis Archambault

“Housing first” is an idea that people need secure shelter, along with adequate nutrition and clothing, before you can begin to address their other social and psychological needs. Unfortunately, a recent trend toward higher rents is making housing an increasingly difficult determinant to influence. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the first half of 2023, the cost of housing in Metro Detroit rose nearly 18 percent between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2023. That translates into “hundreds of dollars more each month” in rent, according to a recent account in The Detroit News.

“That means moving out of homes people have lived in for years into spaces that haven’t been cared for, or even into motels as renters look for places that they can afford even as their wages haven’t gone up,” according to the article. As it is, the supply of low-income housing is not meeting the demand. With rents steadily increasing, people will be forced to leave. Where will they go? Community health providers will observe the unfortunate consequences of this market driven situation. Without stable housing, people neglect their health in search of shelter.

“It’s whatever the investors or landlords think they can get,” said Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC) in Detroit. “There’s no evidence that there’s been any increase in code enforcement that would justify upping these costs.” Authority Health collaboratives with UCHC and other agencies to preserve and promote development of low-income senior housing through the Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit coalition.

Phillips explained that low-income tenants need to earn as much as three times what their rent is to be considered for an apartment. The way the federal government compensates for this market condition is through housing vouchers – and there’s a scarcity of them Section 8 voucher, and there aren’t enough vouchers.”

The Biden Administration has attempted to address the issue by proposing $1.8 billion for the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, an increase of $300 million over the 2023 enacted level, to construct and rehabilitate affordable rental housing and provide homeownership opportunities. In the meantime, more people will become homeless.

As Daniel Dawes points out in The Political Determinant of Health, housing is one of the social determinants of health that is influenced by policy – or the lack of policy. Health advocacy often requires political action.

Tonya Myers Phillips, representing the Detroit Right to Counsel Coalition which advocates to provide legal aid for those facing eviction, said, “Rents rising like this? This is a policy choice, or a series of policy choices. It’s not just some anomaly. It’s not, ‘oh, the market who knows why.’ We know why. It’s been a series of policy decisions over several years. It does not have to be inevitable it happens like this.”

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.