APR 2001

by Ben Biber

Paying sky-high rents? Home-ownership beyond your reach? You’re not alone. To face the the local housing crunch, members of local congregations and nonprofits mobilized and last fall incorporated Religious Action for Affordable Housing (RAAH). Two dozen churches and synagogues are working with a handful of key nonprofits on several "homefronts": raising consciousness, raising buildings, raising funds, and, yes, raising hell. If you’re interested, plan on coming to RAAH’s 2nd annual "Affordable Housing Tour" on Sunday, May 6th from 3-6 PM. You’ll need to RSVP so we can save you a bus seat. (RSVP info at end of article.)

The housing crunch in Ann Arbor has been steadily worsening since the ‘80s for two primary reasons. First, Reagan’s federal budget cuts decimated many publicly supported programs from affordable housing to mental health care and substance abuse rehab centers. Secondly, the U of M has historically failed to build sufficient student housing to alleviate its share of the local housing shortage.

Both locally and across the nation, congregations and private nonprofits increased their work to meet the human needs which the callousness and ineptitude of the government have left unmet. Locally, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church started this process by opening Ann Arbor’s first homeless shelter in 1981, and then facilitated the coalition efforts which created the Shelter Association and some key changes in public policy and funding.

Our local housing problems could easily get worse before they get better. Today we again face a Republican administration which aims to cut taxes—without a budget or plans to adequately fund crucial public institutions like schools and employment programs, and regardless of the national debt.

RAAH has become a leading chorus of voices on housing advocacy and organizing. Last spring the group went to bat for the new homeless shelter which was losing City Council support due to pressure from greedy developers and NIMBY neighbors. RAAH worked hard with the Washtenaw Housing Alliance to get a unanimous council vote suppoorting the shelter. Last summer and fall RAAH worked with one of its member nonprofits, the Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corporation (WAHC), doing community organizing to start a local community land trust. This spring, with some technical assistance and possible funding from the Institute for Community Economics, RAAH and WAHC are helping this new community land trust get on its feet to acquire land for new low-cost housing. RAAH has also been working to save the low-cost housing at the YMCA by supporting a plan from Avalon Housing, another RAAH member organization.

Interested in finding out more? Get involved! Call RAAH organizer Nile Harper at (734) 971-6177. RSVP for the May 6th tour.


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