Part 4: The housing issue

High rent prices make living an Ann Arbor a challenge

According to Rent Jungle, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1229, and last year the city was named the ninth-hottest real estate market in the United States. Professionals earning upper-middle class and upper class salaries may be able to afford living in Ann Arbor. For those who can’t, the cost of rent can lead to people in recovery (and of course those who aren’t) to be priced out of the city.

The lack of affordability begs the question if people who could benefit from a community supportive of recovery are unable to afford living in the city, then really how supportive is it? Sure, it’s possible to live in Ypsilanti, Dexter, or Saline, cities in Washtenaw County that are more affordable, but that doesn’t solve the impact of economic privilege on recovery in Ann Arbor.

It’s possible to live in Ypsilanti, Dexter, or Saline, cities in Washtenaw County that are more affordable, but that doesn’t solve the impact of economic privilege on the recovery community in Ann Arbor.

One low income community that receives considerable attention from local government and nonprofit organizations is the homeless community. Avalon Housing is one of the main organizations focused on housing the homeless community in Ann Arbor and owns 260 housing units, serving 650 individuals. Along with their own properties, they also serve people living with rental subsidies throughout Washtenaw County.

According to Aubrey Patino, director of tenant programs, Avalon specifically targets those “who have experienced four episodes of homelessness in the last three years or have been homeless for a year or more and have a disabling condition which can be a substance abuse disorder.”

Avalon employs a “Housing First” philosophy, which means that people need to have housing in order to recover from life’s issues. “We don’t screen out,” Patino said. “We screen in. We don’t screen out for anything.” In addition to providing housing, Avalon also dispenses an array of resources to assist its tenants, including addiction support.

“We do a lot to really help people sort of access recovery supports,” Patino said. “We provide a lot of linkages to treatment, a lot of linkages to mutual aid groups. We have peer support specialists who are in recovery themselves that work with our folks.”

Avalon predominantly works with Dawn Farm and Home of New Vision, another popular treatment provider. Even still, Avalon only works with the population earning 30 percent or below the median income, which often qualifies for government assistance. This leaves another population vulnerable to Ann Arbor’s real estate boom, the so-called “workforce” population that earns 60–120 percent of median income and is unsupported by the government. Though conversations have begun on developing affordable, workforce housing, little has materialized on a government-supported front.

And to make matters more complex, the issue of having a criminal record can affect the ability of people in recovery to acquire housing on the private market.

The issue of having a criminal record can affect the ability of people in recovery to acquire housing on the private market.

“A lot of the private landlord market is absolutely gonna screen out like a host of criminal offenses,” Patino said. “A lot of the private landlord market is gonna screen out bad credit and a lot of the private rental market is going to screen out obviously income thresholds and that kind of thing.

“So it’s really challenging for people, particularly for people who want to maintain sobriety depending on what their substance abuse looked like for them, it can be really difficult for them to end up kind of pigeonholed into housing options that aren’t ideal and/or can be triggers for them.”

There has been recent progress, though. The ability to deny housing to someone because of a criminal offense has been weakened. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on April 4 that landlords or home sellers who deny housing to potential tenants or buyers may be violating the Fair Housing Act. While the department says this new guidance is to address racial and ethnic discrimination, there’s no ignoring the impact it could have on the recovery community, which is affected by discrimination due to past alcohol- or drug-related legal issues.

With this ruling, the recovery community may see another barrier broken. In Ann Arbor, the rent will be still be high, but there should be more opportunities for people in recovery to find homes conducive to their needs.


To read Part 5 on support groups, click here.

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