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Published: Thursday, 3/22/2001

Monroe poverty report spurs birth of housing panel

MONROE - An extensive study of housing needs throughout Monroe County has found that more than 11,500 county residents live in poverty and that most list finding an affordable place to live a top concern.

The findings from the long-delayed report have prompted county commission chairman Tom Mell to agree to appoint a fifth member to a new countywide housing commission, thereby bringing that group to life.

Previously Mr. Mell had delayed the appointment, saying he would do so until he became convinced there is a shortage of affordable housing in Monroe County. The other four members of the commission were appointed by former county chairman Dale Zorn, but by law the commission could not meet until all five were named.

“As far as I'm concerned, there's no question. I see a need [for a countywide housing commission], according to what's presented in the study,” Mr. Mell said. He said he intends to appoint the fifth and final member at the county board's meeting Tuesday.

The study, conducted by the Poggemeyer Design Group, Inc., was funded in part with a technical assistance grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. It was commissioned by the Monroe County Opportunity Program, which has been fighting since late 1999 to establish a countywide housing commission as a way to secure federal and state grants to help those in need. In doing so MCOP will become the first private organization in Michigan to oversee a housing commission.

Opposition to MCOP's proposal emerged from several local government entities that have local housing commissions. Bedford Township officials, for example, asked whether their board will have to cede authority to a countywide board, thereby giving up local control of its decisions.

MCOP officials tried to allay fears by promising to work with other housing commissions in the county, including those in Bedford, Monroe, and Luna Pier. They promised to work with local elected officials to ease housing crunches in their areas and not to take land for low-income housing through eminent domain.

Other conclusions: The county faces a shortage of affordable senior housing as baby-boomers mature; a shortage of affordable housing exists for households earning less than 50 percent of the county's 1999 median household income of $59,483.

The lakeshore areas of Monroe County, with the exception of the southern portion of LaSalle Township, had the greatest number of people living in poverty in the county, the study concluded. The heaviest concentrations of poor people occurred within Monroe.

The most rural areas of the county, including London, Exeter, and the western half of Erie townships had the highest concentrations of households with more than seven people in them. Ida, Dundee, Exeter, and portions of Bedford Township had the greatest number of households with more than five members, the study found.

Renters along lakeshore areas of Erie and LaSalle townships, those in portions of Berlin and Ash townships, and Monroe paid the largest portions of household income in rent monthly, between 30 and 36 percent, the study found. Dundee Township and the areas of Monroe Charter and Frenchtown Township immediately adjacent to Monroe had the highest incidences of renter-occupied housing.

The study also lists a number of priorities upon which the new housing commission should concentrate its efforts. Among them is finding a way to make housing options more affordable for the more than 13,000 households earning less than $29,000 a year.



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