Religious Action for Affordable Housing: Creating Community

Aug 2011 (original, 2009) by Nile Harper
This article is an abridged version of a case study that appears in the book by Nile Harper, Journeys into Justice: Religious Collaboratives Working for Social Transformation [Minneapolis: Bascom Hill Publishing Group, 2009], 85-109, available from and It is republished here with the author’s permission.

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It was a beautiful October afternoon with clear sky, full sunshine, and a light breeze flowing through the colorful leaves of a one-hundred-year-old elm tree where children were playing under its broad branches. The old elm tree stands near the center of a well-planned new family townhome apartment development. Families, friends, and neighbors gathered to celebrate and dedicate the opening of the new Carrot Way Apartments. The thirty units of two-story, rental townhome apartments are situated in an upscale neighborhood on the north side of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The new construction of supportive rental housing for families and individuals of very low-income is a remarkable accomplishment in exclusive Ann Arbor. How did this “miracle” come about?

Ann Arbor, population 114,000, is the home of the University of Michigan. It has been for a long time a thriving, small, elite city. It is home for university faculty, corporate executives from the Big Three automakers in nearby Detroit, high-tech research entrepreneurs, medical doctors, attorneys, and other professionals.

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The University of Michigan and the University Hospital employ over ten thousand skilled and semi-skilled support staff, maintenance workers and other hourly wage laborers. Most of these workers cannot afford to live in the city, which is known for its high-priced real estate. Even moderate-income families experience the struggle to find good housing that is affordable. In addition, there are approximately 2,750 homeless or semi-homeless people in the city and surrounding area, depending on the season of the year.

Ann Arbor has a long history of speculative investors and local landlords buying up older homes as they become available, investing a few thousand dollars to upgrade, and then renting the houses to small groups of students for $3,000 to $4,000 or more a month. This phenomenon increased in the decade of the nineties as new developments of larger family homes and upscale condominiums were built around the perimeter of the city. The older homes that were vacated in the city did not devolve to moderate-priced housing, but were redeveloped for student rentals. Low-income families and individuals continued to be largely shut out from the rental market and prevented from living near their work.


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