Empowering Michigan state and local leaders to address housing affordability and equitable access in their own communities

MSU Extension educators quickly and collaboratively responded to pressing housing policy needs and developed an extensive attainable housing program tailored to the varying geographies of urban, suburban, and rural communities in Michigan.

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Michigan’s communities are increasingly confronting insufficient and unaffordable housing stock. Demographic changes, such as aging communities, housing costs, declining populations, and changing housing needs are exacerbating social-economic issues across our population. Communities that have seen in-migration escalate due to remote work during the “COVID-19 induced” economic crisis are now experiencing housing shortages and increasing housing prices. There are additionally important issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in housing due to the legacy of discriminatory policies like redlining and programs causing large inequalities in housing affordability and access today.

To address this complex issue, Michigan State University Extension land use and housing educators quickly and collaboratively responded to these housing policy needs and developed an extensive attainable housing program tailored to the varying geographies of urban, suburban, and rural communities. Through this work, educators disseminated knowledge about land use patterns, development trends, demographics, environmental concerns, regional partnerships, rural considerations, policy tools, zoning practices, and associated areas of applied economics and business challenges to a diverse group of community stakeholders from across Michigan.

The program utilizes a foundation of economic housing data that sets the stage for deeper conversations about policy and other local solutions. This functions to build a shared vocabulary around common housing terms and highlights recent trends in housing stock and living arrangements based on state and national socioeconomic research. On top of this foundation, additional research incorporates the complex issue of insufficient and unaffordable housing stock and its intersection with master planning, geography, housing exclusivity throughout history, zoning tools and demography.

Under the umbrella of this program, MSU Extension educators provided audiences throughout 2022 with a suite of learning opportunities of various time lengths and focus areas tailored to audience needs and interests. These opportunities were all available in an in-person classroom format, online synchronous format, or as a hybrid (in-person and online at the same time).

Through numerous presentations, information is paired with multiple toolkits to assist communities in addressing modern housing inaccessibility and inequities, as well as provides public engagement tools to policymakers when beginning a community discussion about these issues. To further support participants in applying what they learned in the three key presentations of the program, educators also created self-assessment checklists for housing readiness, as well as resource summaries for participants to share with their peers and staff in their own communities.

A web page resource was also developed to support the overall program, “Redlining in Michigan: The History and Legacy of Racist Housing Policies,” which extensively documents redlining history across Michigan within 11 redlined cities. In addition to summarizing the current research on the long-term housing and economic effects of redlining policies, the website overlays the historical federal redlining maps over present-day demographic data maps to illustrate the persistent and continued pattern of these race- and class-based policies in present-day Michigan.

The impact of the MSU Extension attainable housing program has been far-reaching. In terms of a statewide impact, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s (MSHDA) first Statewide Housing Plan, which sets goals for housing throughout the state, explicitly cites MSU Extension’s attainable housing program as “motivational and informative in the pursuit of racial justice in housing.” Given that the goal of this program includes changing the understanding, decision-making, and awareness levels of housing planners and impacting the awareness of state-level housing officials, this MSHDA acknowledgement is strong evidence of the impact of this program.

In addition, the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with Michigan State University’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources has integrated key elements of the housing program related to housing segregation and historic racism and classism into MSU Extension’s Multicultural Self Awareness Workshop, a “cornerstone” multi-day workshop required for all new MSU Extension employees, which sets an organizational framework for understanding and appreciation of differences.

The MSU Extension resource website on the history of redlining in Michigan itself won the 2022 Award for Extension Educational Materials from the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals. In addition to the state and university acknowledgements and aforementioned award, the housing policy educators’ work can be found in almost forty publications and over twenty presentations, including attendance numbers that approach 1,000 attendees total.

Through this important work, Michigan State University Extension educators have provided community and state leaders with tools, strategies and resources needed to make difficult, complex decisions more attainable for implementing equitable housing options in Michigan. 

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