The Michigan Rural Network (MRN), a program of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, released its Michigan Rural Housing Profile on September 29. MRN’s housing working group developed the profile, a series of data and survey results on the state’s rural housing stock to be able to identify the challenges facing housing providers and opportunities for development. MRN plans to use the profile to advocate for sound rural housing policy, and hopes that it will also highlight opportunities for developers and regulators to work collaboratively.
MRN began in 2002 as CEDAM’s Rural Caucus Committee, in response to housing and economic development groups’ shared frustrations with the state and industry. In 2007, the group established a series of “Rural Road Shows” to identify priorities among rural communities in the state, which later developed into MRN’s policy agenda. As the group evolved, members worked to institute an organizational structure and sought funding, winning a grant in 2008 through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Rural People, Rural Policy Initiative. Receiving this grant also incorporates MRN into a broader national network of rural housing initiatives funded by Kellogg. MRN is the only one of these groups that is state, rather than regionally, focused.
MRN operates through working groups that meet on specific policy issues like housing, education, and infrastructure and transportation (for a complete list of working groups, visit MRN’s website). Among their priorities, the housing working group advocates for preservation of existing housing, increasing per-unit subsidy levels to target very low income households, and revitalization of Main Street areas by promoting mixed-use projects.
“The housing working group looked at the issues facing rural communities, and asked, ‘what is causing these concerns? What is affecting these issues?’” said Kari Marciniak, MRN’s Coordinator. “We know cutbacks are a problem, so we needed to show how and why rural housing matters in terms of numbers.”
The Rural Housing Profile assesses how the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) has distributed funding to rural communities, tracks the number of units produced by developers through MSHDA’s programs, and specifies other housing services nonprofits are able to provide with MSHDA funds. To produce the profile, MRN worked closely with MSHDA to compile data, and surveyed developers and third-party lenders to learn how effective MSHDA’s programs are, and how budget cuts pose challenges to community development. MRN looks to the Rural Housing Profile to highlight the hard work done by developers, share information among different rural housing nonprofits, and inform the development of their policy agenda.
“The next step for us is to sit down with the housing working group and work through the profile. We need to think about what this information means, and how it meshes with MSHDA’s policies and allocation plans. We see the profile as a way to enhance the effectiveness of MSHDA’s programs and as a tool to help us influence rules and regulations in order to make affordable housing more workable,” said Marciniak. “Investment in rural Michigan is crucial, and we want to make sure that investment is used most effectively for affordable housing development in these communities.”