Home-sharing exacerbates lack of affordable housing

By Janeé Ayers

A decade ago, Detroit made headlines for its infamous decline.

Rows of vacant and blighted buildings illustrated on the covers of newspapers created a prominent mental image of a city in decline. The Great Recession precipitated an epic housing crisis. The effects were acutely felt in our city where tens of thousands of homes and buildings fell victim to foreclosure and blight. From 2000 to 2010, the city lost nearly 240,000 residents, shrinking our tax base and resources.

In recent years, we have seen a shift in this narrative. Detroit, in the media, is now a tale of resurgence, a city rising from the ashes.

We are happy to see improvements. Many of us who grew up here supported the city through its ups and downs.

However, many continue to live in neighborhoods where blight and overgrown lots, not shiny new developments, remain a common sight. Far too many Detroiters struggle to attain a decent standard of living, a living that provides them a living wage, affordable housing, access to fresh groceries and basic services.

While strategic investment and sustainable development is important to the city’s growth, many investors buy up properties, at times entire vacant blocks, and wait to cash out instead of rehabilitating them.

Others have distorted buildings across the city from potential housing into an investment, turning them into hotels instead of homes through such platforms as Airbnb and VRBO. Prioritizing cash over community and investors over residents spurs gentrification, especially in places like Midtown and downtown.

Every time a house or apartment is rented as a hotel instead of a home, the supply of affordable housing decreases. This forces residents and tourists to compete for what is left and raises the market value of housing units to unaffordable levels for many residents. Eventually, this affects entire neighborhoods, making affordable housing less available and basic services less accessible.

Apart from the decrease of housing supply, a lack of access to resources for homeownership also drives the housing crisis in our city. The majority of Detroiters rent instead of own. According to a study by the Urban Institute, “fewer than half of the city’s black residents, who make up 80 percent of the population, own their homes.”

In addition, according to a city of Detroit study, nearly 60 percent of Detroiters are “rent-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Predatory lending, foreclosures, historical redlining practices and rising rents have hurt black homeownership. Rents have climbed from an average of $650 to $820 per month in the past 10 years. Taking steps to improve pathways to homeownership is vital to fighting the housing crisis.

To fight the housing crisis effectively, we have to come together and tackle the myriad issues that contribute to this problem. Many of the Detroit residents interviewed by the Urban Institute noted that the city’s housing crisis “is a symptom of broader societal issues… [that] led to massive instability in neighborhoods. You can’t just create products to address these issues, you’ve got to drive deeper, into deeper challenges.”

I agree: There isn’t just one solution.We need to approach this crisis and tackle these inequalities from multiple angles. Let’s take steps to increase the supply of affordable, livable housing by reforming and regulating home-sharing platforms. Improving access to homeownership will benefit all.

You can read the full Crain’s Detroit Business article here.