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U-M public policy professors awarded Equitable Growth grant to study effects of expanded Child Tax Credit

By Lauren Slagter

ANN ARBOR – With support from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, public policy professors at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy will delve deeper into exploring the effects of the expanded Child Tax Credit on household economic well-being

The expanded Child Tax Credit was a pivotal part of the pandemic safety net, contributing to a historically low child poverty rate in 2021 when families received the tax credit as monthly payments. A $70,000 grant announced last month will enable Natasha Pilkauskas and Katherine Michelmore, both associate professors of public policy; with H. Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn professor of social justice and social policy; to examine how the expanded Child Tax Credit impacted low-income households’ experience of material hardship, debt, savings, and employment, with a focus on racial disparities in receipt of the tax credit. 

“Existing evidence reveals the monthly Child Tax Credit payments reduced poverty, and especially child poverty, despite the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research going forward will explore non-income outcomes related to the expanded tax credit, like the ability to afford basic necessities and get enough food to eat,” Pilkauskas said. 

The U.S. Census Bureau credited the expanded Child Tax Credit with contributing to a 46% decline in child poverty, from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021 – the lowest Supplemental Poverty Measure child poverty rate on record. The Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account safety net programs, tax credits, and regional differences in the cost of living, is broadly considered more accurate than the government’s Official Poverty Measure.

The expanded Child Tax Credit, which was distributed as monthly payments of up to $300 per child from July to December 2021, increased the amount of the credit and made it available to the poorest families, who previously were not eligible. In 2022, the Child Tax Credit returned to its previous form, providing families with a lump sum as part of their tax refund and excluding families with no income. 

In 2021, Pilkauskas and Michelmore authored a series of policy briefs on receipt and usage of the monthly CTC payments among families with low incomes. They analyzed survey data from Propel, the creators of a Providers mobile application that helps over 5 million families manage their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

“The survey data revealed parents were using their CTC payments to pay for basic needs and child-related expenses. We also found disparities in which families received the tax credit, with families making less than $500 a month and Hispanic parents being substantially less likely to receive the monthly payments for which they qualified at the end of 2021,” Michelmore said.  

Shaefer has conducted ongoing analysis of material hardship levels during the pandemic. That research found a direct link between the level of hardship faced by U.S. households and the federal government’s response in the form of stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance, and the expanded Child Tax Credit. Shaefer is among a group of poverty scholars that have contributed significant research on the potential for an expanded Child Tax Credit that follows the design of a child allowance to reduce child poverty rates in the U.S.

In the past two years, the United States made more progress in reducing child poverty than ever before as a result of smart, evidence-based public policies. A better understanding of the effects of the expanded Child Tax Credit can help policymakers make informed decisions about the best ways to support families struggling to afford basic necessities,” said Shaefer, who is the founding director of U-M’s Poverty Solutions, an interdisciplinary initiative that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research. 

A forthcoming policy brief from Pilkauskas, Michelmore, and Shaefer will provide insights into how families spent the monthly CTC payments and how the payments affected their experience of material hardship and employment decisions. 

Related reading

Op-ed in Vox: Child poverty in the US was stagnant – and then something changed 

New York Times: Pandemic aid cut US poverty to new low in 2021, Census Bureau reports

State & Hill: Changing the conversation around child poverty

Poverty Solutions research on the economic impact of COVID-19

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U-M study finds 1 in 4 adults experience transportation insecurity

ANN ARBOR — Nearly one-quarter of adults age 25 and older in the United States experience transportation insecurity, meaning they are unable to move from place to place in a safe or timely manner.

The Transportation Security Index, a novel measure of transportation insecurity recently developed by University of Michigan researchers, offers new insights into the experience of this form of material hardship.

Their analysis found the experience of transportation insecurity as reported on a 2018 nationally representative survey is closely linked to income level. More than half of people living below the poverty line experience transportation insecurity, which is higher than the rate of food insecurity among people in poverty.

The latest research found transportation insecurity was more common among Black adults (33%) and Hispanic adults (29%) than White adults (19%). Residents of urban areas (39%) are more likely to experience transportation insecurity compared to suburban (22%) and rural (13%) residents, and transportation insecurity rates are higher among people who do not own a car (42%) than car owners (18%).

“Transportation security is an essential element of economic mobility, individual well-being, and understanding how to address poverty,” said Alexandra Murphy, U-M assistant professor of sociology. “If people don’t have the ability to move from place to place, they’re going to struggle to get to work, health care appointments, school, grocery stores and social services. They will also find it challenging to stay connected to important sources of social support, including friends and family.”

Murphy co-led the research team that developed the Transportation Security Index. Modeled after the Food Security Index, the Transportation Security Index includes a validated 16-question survey focused on the symptoms of transportation insecurity, like taking a long time to plan everyday trips, rescheduling appointments or worrying about inconveniencing acquaintances for help with transportation.

The survey questions were informed by the researchers’ extensive qualitative research, which included interviews with 187 people with low incomes in urban, suburban and rural areas in the Midwest. The survey asks how often people experience various symptoms of transportation security and assigns a transportation security score based on their responses. Transportation security scores are divided into five levels of transportation insecurity: no insecurity, marginal insecurity, low insecurity, moderate insecurity and high insecurity.

“By focusing on symptoms of transportation insecurity, the Transportation Security Index spares urban planners, government officials, social scientists and transportation experts from attempting the impossible task of cataloging every possible variable—from bus schedules to gas prices—that influences transportation insecurity,” said Alix Gould-Werth, director of Family Economic Security Policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth who co-led the Transportation Security Index research with Murphy.

“The index offers new insights into who is experiencing transportation insecurity and the severity of the experience.”

Researchers validated the index against a nationally representative sample, which supported the Transportation Security Index as a useful way to measure a range of experiences of transportation insecurity. The findings have been published in 2018 and 2021 articles in Survey Practice, an editor-reviewed journal published by the American Association for Public Opinion Research; and this week in Socius, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Sociological Association.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation; Stanford University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality; and the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, Office of Research, Department of Sociology, Center for Public Policies in Diverse Societies, MCity, Population Studies Center and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Interested in more news like this? Check out the Poverty Solutions newsletter.

 

Amplifying youth voices to drive change in Detroit

U-M’s Poverty Solutions collaborated with Detroit Phoenix Center’s Summer Leadership Academy to support youth-led communications projects

Detroit housing loss prevention program yields 85% homeownership rate four years later

Contacts: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu; Nardy Baeza Bickel nbbickel@umich.edu

DETROIT – A program designed to help tenants in Detroit to purchase their homes helped 85% of participants sustain homeownership for four years, an important milestone as owners may start to see the wealth-building benefits and other advantages of homeownership after at least five years of ownership.

The findings from an evaluation of the Make It Home program by the University of Michigan also offers recommendations for sustaining homeownership among more households with low incomes, such as providing financial counseling, a home inspection prior to purchasing the home and financial help for major repairs, if needed.

“The study underscores the importance of affordability and housing that is in good condition to promote stability among people with low incomes,” said Roshanak Mehdipanah, an associate professor of health behavior and health education at U-M’s School of Public Health and co-author of the Make It Home evaluation. “It was the tenants who didn’t have any path to homeownership who saw the most instability.”

The U-M analysis focused on the first year of the Make It Home program’s implementation in 2017 when the City of Detroit used the Right of First Refusal to help 80 Detroit renters to purchase their homes. People in the program lived in properties experiencing tax foreclosure, meaning the property owner had failed to pay property taxes for at least three years. 

The City of Detroit used donated funds from Rocket Community Fund (formerly Quicken Loans Community Fund) to purchase tax-foreclosed homes from the Wayne County Treasurer and transferred them to United Community Housing Coalition.

UCHC then sold the properties to tenants with quit claim deeds or on 0% interest land contracts, an alternative to mortgage lending that allows prospective buyers to make monthly payments toward homeownership. 

Since its start, Make It Home has helped nearly 1,200 households in Detroit avoid housing loss by giving them the opportunity to purchase the properties where they live.

By the end of the first year of the program, 81% of Make It Home’s initial 80 participants (65) owned their homes outright or continued to hold a land contract. In the four years following the properties’ tax foreclosure in 2017, Make It Home resulted in sustained homeownership for 85% of participants. The median household size for the initial Make it Home group was three people, and 89% of participants made less than $37,080 a year. 

“The Make It Home program set out with two main goals: to prevent tenants from losing their housing in the crisis of a landlord’s tax foreclosure and to help them sustain their homeownership. Our evaluation found the program accomplished those goals for 85% of its first group of participants,” said Margaret Dewar, professor emerita of urban and regional planning at U-M and co-author of the evaluation of the Make It Home program. 

To compare results, researchers also studied outcomes for 154 households with similar characteristics that UCHC attempted to help buy at the county 2017 tax auction. In that group, only 27% sustained homeownership four years later, 109 had their homes sold at auction, and 15% of those tenants experienced eviction within the next four years. 

Of the original Make it Home group, six households that successfully purchased their houses went on to sell them after less than four years of ownership. But even those homeowners said they were glad to have been able to buy their houses and wanted to stay despite the hardships they had encountered, according to the researchers. 

One participant said Make It Home reduced the “bad feeling [of] not having a place to stay,” while another said the program provided the opportunity to “save the home” where the household had been living for a long time. Participants spoke about the “ease” of acquiring their home because of the support provided by UCHC. For some, homeownership had seemed unattainable prior to this process.

The researchers said numerous factors threaten the continued homeownership by program’s participants. More than 30% of Make It Home purchasers faced imminent foreclosure for failure to pay property taxes. Two homeowners left their houses vacant. Owners cited hardships with poor condition of the houses, high housing-related expenses, and loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People said they sold their houses because they couldn’t keep up with repairs and the lack of upkeep was presenting health hazards. They sold because a loved one had died, a relationship ended, or an investor harassed them into selling the house. Housing instability compounds the stress of navigating these life crises,” Dewar said. 

The researchers recommend ways to improve sustained homeownership rates for buyers with low incomes, including:

  • Provide pre-purchase homeowner education and financial counseling to help people build the financial stability needed to purchase and continue to own a house; 
  • Inspect houses prior to purchase, so prospective buyers have a clear understanding of the scale of needed repairs; 
  • Increase home insurance awareness and access, as land contracts do not require the buyer to carry home insurance and out-of-pocket repair costs can be expensive; 
  • Provide financial help for major housing repairs to people who cannot obtain a conventional home repair loan or equity line of credit due to low credit scores, lack of equity in a property, or lack of disposable income for loan payments; and 
  • Make post-purchase support like utility payment plans and property tax relief available to deal with ongoing housing costs and prevent loss of housing. 

“Additional support services would help ensure homeowners receive the benefits of longer-term homeownership. In Detroit, assistance in enrolling in programs that reduce property taxes is vital because tax delinquency can quickly lead to loss of a home,” Mehdipanah said. “By monitoring efforts like the Make It Home program over time, we gain new insights into the challenges facing homeowners and the types of support that would make a difference.”

RELATED

 

Poverty Solutions to study Oakland County’s healthy food system landscape

PONTIAC – Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, with the support of the Board of Commissioners, announced $700,000 in food assistance grants today at the Oak Park Farmers Market to help eligible families access nutritious food as the prices of fruits, vegetables, milk, and other staples continue to rise.

The county is also allocating $250,000 to the Double Up Food Bucks program, which doubles the money for fresh produce at farmers markets for people eligible for food assistance.

“Our goal here is to reach any Oakland County resident struggling with food insecurity,” Coulter said. “We don’t want our families to scrimp on other essentials, like rent or utilities or medicines, so they can make sure they don’t go hungry.”

The Pontiac Community Foundation and Lighthouse each will implement $350,000 in food assistance grants. Lighthouse will utilize the funds to bolster its emergency food assistance. It has provided emergency food to approximately 5,000 households each week since the beginning of the pandemic. The Pontiac Community Foundation will provide grants of up to $50,000 to small to midsize organizations that aren’t traditional food providers but found themselves in that role during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“We are overwhelmingly grateful for Oakland County’s commitment to provide critical food assistance for residents,” Pontiac Community Foundation CEO Dustin McLellan said. “As the pandemic rages on and cost-of-living expenses continue to rise, many families are still struggling to have their basic needs met.  We look forward to partnering with food providers across the county, to provide help and support where it’s needed most.”

The Oakland County Board of Commissioners approved this allocation of American Rescue Plan Act dollars for the food access initiative and Double Up Food Bucks program during its June 23 meeting. Both programs aim to address the critical needs to address food security and increase access to healthy food.

“The county has once again done its job by stepping in and helping the people and organizations of its community,” Commissioner Yolanda Smith Charles, who is from Southfield and represents part of Oak Park, said. “My fellow commissioners and I were happy to support a program that is increasing access to healthy food for our residents, especially as all of us are seeing increasing prices at the grocery store.”

Coulter also announced that the county is partnering with the Poverty Solutions initiative at the University of Michigan to conduct a comprehensive healthy food system landscape study which will look at everything from healthy food systems and providers in Oakland County, to the role that urban farms and farmers play in getting nutritious food to families. The study will also examine transportation routes and how it might be a challenge for some families to have access to grocery stores.

“In the wealthiest county in Michigan, more than 11% of our children are listed as food insecure, up from 8%

before the pandemic, and it’s not just in the cities with greater poverty numbers that are affected,” Coulter said

Oakland County Health Division has several established food assistance programs in the community. These include:

  • Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a supplemental program that provides food benefits, nutrition and breastfeeding education and support to pregnant women and children under five. WIC Project Fresh provides a $25 booklet containing $5 coupons to WIC participants. These coupons can be used through Oct. 31 at authorized farmers markets and roadside stands throughout Michigan, including at the Oak Park Farmers Market which hosted today’s announcement.
  • Healthy Oakland Partnership coordinates Family and Senior Market Day events at local farmers markets to promote healthy eating and support local agriculture by distributing $5 coupons to people 60 years or older, those who have a Michigan Bridge card, and WIC participants to spend at participating farmers markets.
  • Prescription for a Healthy Oakland County connects residents who are foo insecure and at risk for chronic disease to vouchers that can be spent on fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and grocery stores. The program works with participants’ healthcare providers to address chronic health conditions through education and the food vouchers.

“At the Health Division we work diligently to educate the community about the benefits of healthy foods and the positive impact on quality of life and health,” Oakland County Health Officer Calandra Green said.  “Eating healthy can improve a person’s ability to learn and work effectively while reducing the risk of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.”

Washtenaw County should consider long-term impact, implementation of ARPA allocations

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027, lslag@umich.edu 
               Morgan Sherburne, 734-647-1844, morganls@umich.edu 

A new policy brief from the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions initiative offers recommendations for ways to target funding to key programs and priorities, focus on program implementation, and consider long-term impacts as Washtenaw County leaders decide how to allocate the rest of its American Rescue Plan Act money.

With about half of Washtenaw County’s $71 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated, U-M researchers evaluated the county’s spending priorities to offer new insights on strategies to maximize long-term impact and promote equity with the one-time spending.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $350 billion in federal funding for state and local governments to assist with pandemic recovery for small businesses, households and hard-hit industries, and replace lost revenue for government services. Washtenaw County has received the $71 million over two allotments in May 2021 and May 2022, and the county’s Board of Commissioners has voted on how to spend $36 million of the funds so far.

“These funds will be substantial in aiding the county’s pandemic recovery efforts. With more money to be allocated and distribution decisions still undetermined, this is an opportunity to maximize the impact of the ARPA funds to increase equity within Washtenaw County,” said Amanda Nothaft, senior data and evaluation manager at Poverty Solutions and author of the policy brief, “One-time Spending for Long-term Impact: Evaluating Washtenaw County’s American Rescue Plan Act Allocations.”

While Washtenaw County boasts high levels of educational attainment, relatively high incomes and good health outcomes, these overall metrics hide wide disparities in outcomes for residents in different parts of the county. Access to opportunity in Washtenaw County is often tied to race and place.

Poverty Solutions partnered with the county’s Office of Community and Economic Development to revamp the Washtenaw County Opportunity Index, which combines 16 indicators into five categories of opportunity—health, job access, economic well-being, education and training, and community engagement and stability—to identify which parts of the county experience the highest and lowest levels of access to opportunity.

Washtenaw County commissioners formally committed in 2021 to use the Opportunity Index to apply an equity lens to their decision making and county initiatives. ARPA funds provide a unique opportunity to bolster the county’s current efforts to eliminate gaps in opportunity and promote equity, Nothaft said.

The policy brief offers an evaluation of Washtenaw County’s current ARPA allocations, which include:

  • Navigation and financial assistance to help families find child care
  • Creation of Children’s Savings Accounts for all public school students
  • Broadband expansion
  • Expanding access to home weatherization services
  • Investing in the Washtenaw County Health Department
  • Launching a Mobile Support Services Initiative
  • Creating a Community Priority Fund to provide funding to organizations serving communities with low access to opportunity that were hit hard by the pandemic

The evaluation recommends considering the number of people eligible and amount of money dedicated to the currently-funded initiatives to determine whether additional funds are necessary to achieve the intended impact. The policy brief also cautions against creating too many new initiatives and programs that will not have sustainable funding sources once the ARPA money is spent, and instead points to the value of investing in projects like water, transportation, and neighborhood infrastructure that will have long-term impact after a single infusion of funds.

Distributing ARPA money via grants and in partnership with community organizations should include a process to ensure the recipients have the capacity and track record to accomplish what they propose and that their interventions are backed by evidence and have measurable outcomes.

According to the policy brief, the goals of closing gaps in educational, economic and health outcomes by bringing services to people in need and providing funding to organizations that work within the community can only be met if these programs are fully funded and carefully implemented.

 

9 in 10 Detroit eviction cases filed during pandemic came from landlords not compliant with rental codes

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu

DETROIT—Despite pandemic-related eviction prevention measures, thousands of Detroit renters were evicted in the past two years due to loopholes in policies and enforcement.

Analysis of court data by University of Michigan researchers shows nearly 90% of eviction cases filed in Detroit during the pandemic came from landlords whose properties were not in compliance with the city’s rental ordinance. Eviction case filings are on the rise in 2022, signaling the potential return to a cycle of mass evictions.

Researchers say enforcing existing rental laws and making some pandemic-era interventions permanent will be key to maintaining housing stability for more Detroiters, especially as the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program closes at the end of June.

Alexa Eisenberg

“Even with unprecedented eviction prevention measures in place, major policy and enforcement gaps meant that landlords and the court still forcibly uprooted thousands of renters from their homes and neighborhoods during the pandemic,” said Alexa Eisenberg, a postdoctoral research fellow at U-M’s Poverty Solutions initiative. “As federal rental aid expires and the affordable housing crisis escalates, mass evictions will continue unabated if city, state and court officials do not act.”

Eisenberg was part of a team of researchers that reviewed more than 59,700 residential eviction cases filed from January 2019 through March 2022 with the 36th District Court that serves Detroit. In 2020, the number of residential eviction cases filed in Detroit fell to 36% of the pre-pandemic level, which was roughly 30,000 eviction cases each year—the equivalent of 1 in 5 Detroit renter households facing displacement annually.

Eviction filings rose in 2021 to 60% of the pre-pandemic level and continued to increase to about 75% of the pre-pandemic level as of April.

The analysis found nearly 90% of the 25,500 eviction cases filed in Detroit between March 2020 and March 2022 were for properties that did not have a certificate of compliance at the time. The city of Detroit’s rental ordinance requires landlords to register their properties and obtain a certificate of compliance before they can rent out their properties. As of March, data from the city of Detroit’s Open Data Portal indicated that just 6% of Detroit’s rental properties had a certificate of compliance.

By enforcing evictions for landlords whose properties violate health and safety codes, the courts reinforce an unjust power dynamic between landlords and tenants that privileges the landlord’s income over the tenant’s right to a safe and habitable home, Eisenberg says.

The research uses data from The Eviction Machine, an organizing, advocacy and research tool that was developed by the Urban Praxis Workshop with support from U-M Poverty Solutions and Data Driven Detroit.

RelatedDetroit’s Eviction Machine: How the foreclosure crisis opened the door for corporate landlords to destabilize neighborhoods

In addition to tracking the number of eviction filings—the first step initiating an eviction in court—this latest research also gathered data on the type of complaint that prompted the eviction filing, the outcomes of the cases, and whether the landlord and tenant had legal counsel:

  • Common causes of eviction: Similar to 2019, most eviction cases filed during the pandemic (66%) were for nonpayment of rent. No-cause eviction cases—where the rental agreement allows the landlord to terminate tenancy at any time—rose during the pandemic. This may indicate landlords’ reluctance to go through the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance application process with their tenants, as no-cause eviction cases are not eligible for the rent assistance program and were not covered by the federal eviction moratorium. No-cause eviction filings accounted for 28% of all cases filed after the CERA program began in April 2021, compared to 17% previously.
  • Common outcomes of eviction cases: Prior to the onset of COVID-19, 77% of closed eviction cases resulted in a judgment, compared to 29% of cases since. The most common type of judgment is a default—meaning the tenant did not attend a scheduled court hearing, so the judge ruled in favor of the landlord by default. Default judgments accounted for 24% of closed eviction cases during the pandemic, compared to 43% prior to the pandemic.
  • Trends in legal representation: Pandemic relief funds allowed local legal aid organizations to provide free legal advice to all tenants who attended their hearings, but the funds did not cover full representation to all who needed it. Tenants in 22% of cases closed during the pandemic had lawyers, a proportion seven times higher than before. Still, 92% of landlords had attorneys during the pandemic, up from 85% before.
  • Distributing COVID Emergency Rental Assistance: Slow distribution of CERA payments disparately impacted Detroit’s majority-Black renters. CERA payments reached just 36% of Wayne County applicants in 2021, compared to 50% statewide. Wayne County is home to 18% of Michigan’s population and 50% of the state’s Black population; it accounted for 32% of statewide CERA applicants between April 2021 and March 2022.

“The past two years have demonstrated that mass evictions are a policy choice. Our findings show that COVID-19 eviction response measures reduced the scale of Detroit’s eviction crisis relative to 2019 and prevented many cases from reaching the most violent and disruptive stages of the legal eviction process,” Eisenberg said. “Lawmakers can stop unjust evictions if they act urgently to enforce existing laws, make pandemic-era changes permanent and strengthen tenant protections.”

The U-M researchers identify several steps that state and local policymakers can take right now to prevent evictions during the remainder of the pandemic and beyond:

  • Enforce Detroit’s rental code by requiring that landlords have a certificate of compliance in order to file an eviction case.
  • Enact just-cause policies that would reduce no-cause evictions by establishing a list of valid reasons for evictions that landlords must prove while filing an eviction case.
  • Increase tenants’ access to court proceedings and reduce default judgments by permanently adopting pandemic-era changes like requiring pretrial hearings before a judgment can be issued.
  • Address racial inequities in the distribution of CERA funds by making sure the housing stability of tenants is not further jeopardized by application backlogs.

 

New Land Contract Buyer Guide assists Detroiters on path toward homeownership

DETROIT – A new Detroit Land Contract Buyer Guide launched in conjunction with National Homeownership Month offers step-by-step guidance for housing counselors and prospective and current buyers on how to connect with resources, identify predatory or fraudulent situations, and successfully purchase their home. Land contracts are a valuable tool to achieve homeownership, but buyers often lack the support they need to navigate the purchasing process successfully. 

The City of Detroit, Enterprise Community Partners, and University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions co-authored and published the buyer guide. The guide includes information, do-it-yourself checklists, and guidance on risks for before signing, at signing, after signing, and after paying the land contract in full. The guide and additional resources, including materials in Spanish, are available at www.detroitlandcontracthelp.com.

These resources are the result of a grant from Center for Financial Empowerment to the City of Detroit, to support consumer financial protection issues in the city.

“The City of Detroit is committed to supporting homeownership, and we know that many Detroiters attempt to purchase their homes on land contracts without the benefit of support. The Detroit Land Buyer Contract Guide and supportive resources are part of our effort to fill the knowledge gap, connect buyers to resources that can help them avoid potential scams, and successfully navigate the home-buying process,” said Michele Oberholtzer, Chief Policy Advisor for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and co-author of the Land Contract Buyer Guide. “We appreciate the legal experts, housing advocates and Detroit residents whose input shaped the guide, and we’re proud to offer this valuable resource to residents and housing counselors.” 

A land contract is a real estate transaction in which the buyer makes monthly payments to the seller for the purchase of a property over time. The seller holds the deed until the purchase is fully paid, and the buyer has most of the other rights and responsibilities of ownership throughout the payment period, including paying property taxes and making home repairs. 

Land contracts are valuable tools for prospective homebuyers and homes that do not qualify for traditional mortgages. Historical red-lining, lack of credit, or need for home repairs have led many to turn to land contracts in the City of Detroit. However, land contracts have often been used as a predatory lending tool with high interest rates, lack of protection through the buying process, and other terms that increase the likelihood the buyer will default.

Mission-driven organizations in Detroit have used supportive land contracts to enable homeownership for credit-constrained households, leveraging the flexibility of land contracts and to provide leniency, as well as wraparound and assistance to buyers.

Karen Ann Kling, senior strategic projects manager at U-M’s Poverty Solutions, and Evelyn Zwiebach, Director with Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. in Detroit, documented this approach and recommended policies to reduce the abuse of land contracts in a policy brief published in May2021. Those findings inspired the creation of the Detroit Land Contract Buyer Guide, with support from the City of Detroit’s participation in the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund’s Local Consumer Financial Protection Initiative.

“Prior research on land contracts focused on the potential for exploitation. But we learned from Detroit nonprofit and community development organizations that land contracts are not inherently predatory,” said Enterprise’s Zwiebach, who also co-authored the buyer guide. “The Land Contract Buyer Guide empowers buyers, equipping them with the information they need to make informed decisions about their home purchase and identify red flags that signal a bad deal. This is a critical first step in getting more Detroiters onto the pathway of homeownership, which contributes to greater housing stability, upward mobility and generational wealth.”

Related: In Good Faith: Reimagining the Use of Land Contracts

With support from the Brookings Institute and Ashoka, Zwiebach and Kling are continuing their research on reforms to land contract policies and program interventions that would protect buyers and maintain the flexibility of land contracts.

“We see the potential for land contracts to increase homeownership rates, improve property values, and advance racial equity by providing an alternative path to homeownership for people who historically and presently have faced discrimination in the housing market,” said Kling, who co-authored the buyer guide. “The Land Contract Buyer Guide takes the guesswork out of the purchase process. And in addition to putting critical information in residents’ hands, University of Michigan is currently working with Enterprise Community Partners to inform discussions regarding how we can change Michigan law to  make land contracts a safer tool.”

The City of Detroit also supports the following homeownership initiatives: 

  • Make it Home, which gives residents living in foreclosed houses the option to purchase the property before the foreclosure auction; 
  • Michigan Homeowner Assistance Fund, which provides funds to help prevent mortgage delinquencies, foreclosure, or loss of utilities due to financial hardship during the pandemic. 
  • HOPE, Homeowners Property Tax Exemption program 
  • Detroit Tax Relief Fund to pay delinquent taxes for low-income homeowners approved for the HOPE exemption. (313) 244-0274

Michigan poverty map identifies regional needs related to child care, health care, affordable housing

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu, 734-929-8027

A new data map displaying a variety of poverty and well-being metrics across Michigan holds implications for how federal American Rescue Plan Act funds could be used to address the state’s most pressing needs.

Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan has released an updated version of its Michigan Poverty & Well-being Map with county and regional data. The new iteration of the map, which Poverty Solutions has maintained since 2017, features 2019 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the most recent available.

“The poverty rate alone doesn’t tell a complete story of how many people are facing economic instability and hardship. The Michigan Poverty & Well-being Map looks at multiple metrics to give us a more holistic sense of Michiganders’ well-being,” said Poverty Solutions faculty director Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and a professor of public policy and social work.

Overall, Michigan residents were in a more stable financial position than in previous years, according to key metrics:

  • 12.9% of the population were living on income below the federal poverty line
  • 17.5% of children under the age of 18 were in households below the federal poverty line
  • 7.8% of working-age adults did not have health insurance coverage, a new metric added to the map this year

“The map gives us a pre-pandemic snapshot of well-being across Michigan and how many people were struggling to afford basic necessities,” said Amanda Nothaft, senior data and evaluation manager at Poverty Solutions, who led the data analysis for the map project. “We know the COVID-19 pandemic brought increased financial hardship for many families and also unprecedented levels of government support to help people through that difficult time.”

Looking ahead, Nothaft said the disparities brought to light by the Poverty & Well-being Map can inform how state and local officials prioritize the use of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. The updated map divides the state into 10 regions—which match the prosperity regions defined by the state of Michigan—to offer a nuanced look at the unique dynamics at play in different parts of the state.

A series of regional factsheets highlight the need for increased access to child care and health care, investments in transportation infrastructure, and more comprehensive affordable housing solutions in certain communities.

“The influx of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act provides a rare opportunity to address some of the underlying disparities and drivers of poverty in Michigan,” Nothaft said. “The Poverty & Well-being Map can help local leaders make informed decisions about their communities’ most pressing needs.”

See the regional factsheets:

Majority of Detroiters report stable, improved financial situation compared to year ago

Note: A previous version of this figure incorrectly labeled which colors represent “about the same” and “better financial situation” in how Detroiters described their shifting financial situation over the past year.

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu, 734-929-8027
Morgan Sherburne, morganls@umich.edu 

DETROIT – Two years into the pandemic, 72% of Detroit residents say their financial situation has stabilized or improved compared to a year ago, and there’s evidence that stimulus checks and the expanded Child Tax Credit played a role in reducing Detroiters’ experiences of economic hardship. 

However, people with household incomes of less than $30,000 were more likely to say they’re in a worse financial situation than a year ago (35%), compared to people with incomes between $30,000 and $60,000 (18%), and people making more than $60,000 (9%), according to the most recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study (DMACS). 

“The survey data show people with lower incomes, people who are unemployed, renters, and parents were more likely to report being in a worse financial situation at the end of 2021 than a year earlier. The economic impact of COVID-19 may have reinforced advantages and disadvantages in Detroit,” said Lydia Wileden, DMACS research associate who co-authored a new report, “The Economic Well-being of Detroit Residents Two Years into the COVID-19 Pandemic.” 

The findings come from a survey of a representative sample of 1,900 Detroiters fielded in November and December 2021. 

Detroiters who received the economic stimulus payments were less likely to report that they faced major economic challenges within the last year. At the end of 2021, 13% of stimulus check recipients said they were facing major economic challenges, compared to 30% of people who did not receive the checks. 

Similarly, parents who received the Child Tax Credit, which distributed monthly payments of $250-$300 per child from July to December 2021, were significantly more likely to report improved financial circumstances compared to other eligible parents, with 23% of CTC recipients saying they are in a better financial position now than a year ago compared to 12% of parents who were eligible but did not receive the tax credit.

“There is evidence that the expansion of the COVID-19 safety net helped ease residents’ economic challenges. Continuing this approach of providing cash assistance could help families maintain the financial stability they achieved in the second year of the pandemic,” said Elisabeth Gerber, one of the faculty leads for DMACS and professor of public policy at U-M.

The survey also found housing cost burden is a significant factor in Detroiters’ financial well-being. Housing costs are considered affordable if they account for no more than 30% of a household’s income. However, based on the survey responses, an estimated 39,000 Detroit households – 33,000 renter households and 6,000 homeowner households – are spending more than half of their income on housing, which is considered a severe housing cost burden. 

One-third of Detroit residents said they had missed at least one housing payment in the past year, which increases their risk of eviction or foreclosure. Five percent of Detroiters said they had been evicted in the past year, meaning an estimated 13,000 households may have been displaced from their homes in 2021; half of the reported evictions occured in the last four months of 2021 after the federal eviction moratorium lapsed.

Additionally, 17% of Detroiters reported experiencing one or more utility or service shut-offs in the last year, with the most common form being the disconnection of phone or internet service.