KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Kalamazoo has been faced with a shortage of affordable housing for years and the COVID-19 pandemic made it worse.
Homes were being built and renovated on the outskirts of the city, especially in Portage and Texas Township, but the city wasn't seeing nearly as much development.
According to Housing Resources Inc., hundreds of people were looking for a place to call home in Kalamazoo.
Area experts said even the scarce available housing was hardly affordable, and for those lucky enough to find what was considered "affordable housing," it was still costing too much.
Out of Kalamazoo County's nearly 102,000 households, 15% were living below poverty and 24% were asset limited, income constrained, and employed, or ALICE, according to the United Way's ALICE report using data from 2019.
According to Charles Zhang of Zhang Financial, households should spend no more than 30% of gross monthly income on housing.
A single person who is living at the federal poverty level in Michigan according to the ALICE data, made $12,490 per year, meaning they should spend $312 or less a month on housing.
With that price point, according to Apartments.com, there were zero affordable apartment options that were available for rent.
Federal poverty level for a household of four was $25,750, which left $639 a month for housing.
United Way Vice President of Impact and Engagement Alyssa Stewart said rent burden was high in Kalamazoo, adding that rent prices were going up but income wasn't following suit.
"The percentage of people who are paying over that threshold of 30% towards their rent for many it is their number one expense, and it is sort of out of whack with the rest of their budget," explained Stewart.
Kalamazoo Housing Development Project Coordinator Sharilyn Parsons said increased costs from the pandemic and stretched capacity were driving prices up.
She said new multifamily units were being built, and as Kalamazoo strived to provide 25% affordable housing, she acknowledged some developers don't want to build affordable housing.
Parsons said while a lot of it comes down to money, she felt more could be done to incentivize builders.
"There’s policy that needs to go along, incentives, gap financing," Parsons said.
She was working with developers to add 48 affordable housing units to the market, but said there was a need for well more than 1,000 in the city.
She anticipated it would take Kalamazoo 10 years to be able to meet the demand.
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