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The Rent Is Too Damn High demonstration calls for Lansing housing changes

September 6, 2023
Members of the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” gathered at the Michigan State Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023.
Members of the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” gathered at the Michigan State Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

“I lost everything I got.”

“My landlord takes advantage of me.”

“I pay too much for there to be mold in my house and the landlord not doing anything about it.”

“We demand livable conditions.”

On Sep. 5 at noon, around the courtyard and on the steps of the Michigan Capitol, a crowd of roughly 500 people chanted, “the rent is too damn high!”

The demonstration was to express their disapproval of Lansing housing conditions and costs. People who attended the demonstration were from all over Michigan: Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Ann Arbor, among other cities. Various nonprofit coalitions also participated in the demonstration

What started in Lansing grew to districts around the state, ultimately becoming The Rent Is Too Damn High, or TRITDH, Michigan Coalition. But what is the group and what exactly do they hope to achieve?

Coalition coordinator, William Lawrence, started TRITDH group in January when he realized that many people who had been involved in organizing housing issues in Lansing discovered they might have an opportunity to make a big statement at a state level.

“The Democrats are in control of the government and the legislature,” Lawrence said. “There’s a chance right now of getting more progressive policy-making done if people hold them accountable.”

Lawrence said the group has three main goals: implement rent control, add money to social housing while having a housing-first approach and add a Renter’s Bill of Rights.

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Members of the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” gathered at the Michigan State Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023.

Rent control

“Your landlord can raise your rent year after year, as much as they want … that’s their prerogative,” Lawrence said. “And if you get priced out, so be it.

Along with the other members of the coalition, Lawrence believes this law should be abolished. The group wants to remove the state-wide ban on rent control so municipalities can take action to stabilize rents and protect tenants. This way, Lawrence said, it is not as easy for landlords to continually increase the rent for properties they own.  

Sarah Hopkins, a resident of Lansing since 2010, supports the coalition and believes that rent control should be banned due to increasing living costs in recent years.

“There’s so many people affected by the cost of rent,” Hopkins said. “The cost of living has gone up dramatically and rent is such a big part of people’s expenses every month and it just keeps going up.”

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Michael Lachney, of Lansing and his golden doodle dog, Chewy, protest on the lawn of the Michigan State Capital during a gathering for the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” on Sept. 5, 2023. Lachney is a faculty member at Michigan State University. “I worry about my graduate students having to rent in this environment while not being able to make a livable wage,” he said.

Social housing and housing first

The coalition is seeking for the government to add $5 billion in statewide investment in social housing and housing-first programs. According to Lawrence, this would “focus on supporting people who are currently unhoused for them to become housed.” 

However, Lawrence said, this will take a while – especially if the government is stubborn for some time – but that is not going to affect the coalition’s ambitions

“This isn’t going to be a one-day fight,” Lawrence said. “We know that it’s going to take sustained attention throughout this fall and into next spring to get things done in this current legislature.”

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Members of the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” gathered at the Michigan State Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023.

A renter’s Bill of Rights

According to the group, “renters around the country are insisting on more protections against landlord abuse and empowerment of renters as a class.” A Bill of Rights would include Fair Chance Housing, which helps “people who are getting out of prison that are discriminated against find housing," Lawrence said.

Other important aspects of a Renter’s Bill of Rights would include tenants’ right to organize a counsel, relocation assistance in case of red tagging, an increase in safety inspections, protection against discrimination based on housing status, just cause eviction and more.

Community and coalition organizer Karrington Kelsey said at the demonstration, he hoped to see the legislators come out and agree on the fact that Michigan residents do not need rent control, as well as “give us more than just pretty words about affordable housing.”

Kelsey brought up the fact the Renter’s Bill of Rights must include the ban on discrimination against renters, an issue that is prevalent with housing right now. 

“When we talk about affordable housing, we talk about affordable housing for everyone,” Kelsey said. “We’re talking about how market rates are inherently racist and they do not work for Black and brown people.”

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Tenesa Sanders makes a speech as members of the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” gathered at the Michigan State Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023.

Kelsey has been mainly affected by housing problems since he moved to Lansing when he was in his early 20s. He said he used to work at homeless shelters around the city and help those unhoused try and find housing

But homelessness and the housing crisis are not only affecting those who are trying to find housing, but also those a part of Michigan State University. College of Education faculty member Michael Lachney said he is concerned about the housing crisis and how the racial disparities are affecting the youth across the country

“There are recent data to suggest that college kids … are seeing an increase in homelessness for them,” Lachney said. “I care about learning. I care about education. You can’t learn or complete your assignments if you don’t have a home or if your home is insecure.”

While his worry for youth, including his future students, and their housing crisis is always on his mind, Lachney said he has a vision for the government that he hopes to soon implement. Lachney wants to see a movement for the redistribution of property who don’t have it – whether young or old, whether in school or not. 

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As The Rent Is Too Damn High Michigan Coalition continues forward with its mission and perseveres to make a change, Lawrence is optimistic that the group will be able to fight for what’s right and reshape the future

“We’re building solitary among renters, people who aren’t housed here in Lansing and all across the state," Lawrence said. "Because we know if we build that solidarity, if you learn to count on each other, if we learn to move in formation, if we learn to show up for each other, then we’re going to be able to fight for what we deserve.”

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Martha Cooper and Amy Brock sit on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol as embers of the statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” gather on Sept. 5, 2023.

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