Oakland County, Michigan

Inclusionary Zoning & Housing for Residents with Disabilities: A Housing Solutions Collaborative Update

"Because housing has a significant influence on health, we have to make necessary changes to ensure that all county residents have access to safe homes that they can afford to keep."
Melanie Grund
community engagement liaison, Oakland County Division of Neighborhood and Housing Development

ChangeLab Solutions’ Housing Solutions Collaborative (HSC) is a year-long learning cohort that convenes cross-sector housing teams in eight small to mid-sized cities across the United States. The primary goal of convening these teams is to confront conditions that impede housing equity in their communities. The HSC provides the teams with technical assistance and a shared foundation for collective problem solving. Read on to learn more about the innovative work pursued by the HSC team in Oakland County, Michigan.

A Team Effort for Affordable Housing

How can local housing stakeholders come together to address the affordable housing crisis? And how can their partnership work toward creating high-quality housing for people with disabilities and their families and caregivers?

The Housing Solutions Collaborative team in Oakland County, Michigan, is pursuing policy solutions to both of these entrenched housing challenges. Local partners with different areas of expertise and differing levels of access to changemaking power have been able to formalize their collaboration and pull in new partners. With technical assistance, these stakeholders have been building on each other's strengths to identify and promote systemic solutions and common policy goals.

Oakland County is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. While the county is consistently ranked among the wealthiest in the state, it is home to communities with significant concentrations of people with low income. The share of renter households that are moderately or severely cost burdened — i.e., spending more than 30% or more than 50% of income, respectively, on rent — was about 41% in 2019. Tenants with some of the lowest incomes ($20,000–$30,000) had the highest incidence of moderate or severe cost burden: 81%. Even before the pandemic, affordable housing stock in Oakland County had decreased by 37% from 2015 to 2019. People with disabilities face additional housing challenges related to supply, design, and geography. Most jurisdictions in Oakland County have yet to develop plans to advance more affordable housing options for these community members.

Focusing on Residents with Disabilities

The Oakland County team consists of representatives from three stakeholders:

In their work together, the Oakland County HSC team is focusing on strategies to create more affordable housing while ensuring that the specialized housing needs of county residents with disabilities are also taken into consideration. The housing needs of persons with disabilities are often overlooked in the planning and development of affordable housing.

“It’s important that new affordable housing stock for people with disabilities be integrated with existing community structures and services, to prevent unintentional segregation,” says Dawn Calnen. “Caregivers and family members also deserve to have affordable, convenient homes to live in.”

Exploring Inclusionary Zoning

Through their participation in the HSC, the Oakland County team is exploring how housing ordinances across a variety of municipalities in the county might embrace voluntary inclusionary zoning — a policy approach that provides new housing developments with certain zoning incentives (such as fee waivers, reduced parking requirements, or design flexibility). In exchange for these benefits, new housing developments must include a minimum percentage of affordable, income-restricted units for an agreed-upon period of time. Inclusionary zoning might also work as a tool to incentivize other development specifications that would address the specialized housing goals of renters with disabilities and their caregivers. ChangeLab Solutions staff members are also conducting a policy scan of municipal zoning codes and related development provisions, to assess opportunities for voluntary inclusionary zoning policies around the county.

The technical assistance provided by ChangeLab Solutions will equip the Oakland County team with the necessary information to advocate for inclusionary zoning with planners, elected officials, and community members. The flexibility and incentives provided to developers through voluntary inclusionary zoning have the potential to increase housing supply, improve affordability, and encourage a more sustainable development pattern through infill redevelopment. These impacts will benefit not only persons with disabilities and their caregivers but the wider community as well.

The Oakland County HSC team will have a lasting impact in Oakland County. For example, the team is exploring the idea of creating an ongoing working group that will focus on meeting the needs of residents with disabilities in all aspects of life, including housing, one of the most critical needs. The technical assistance provided by ChangeLab Solutions will also inform the affordable housing policies of the Oakland County Livable Neighborhoods Plan.

“Because ability, race, and income are reliable predictors of health outcomes, and because housing has a significant influence on health, we have to make necessary changes to ensure that all county residents have access to safe homes that they can afford to keep,” says Melanie Grund.

Pursuing Affordable Housing Trust Funds

One of the other promising strategies the Oakland County team has supported is creation of a county-wide affordable housing trust fund, a dedicated funding source that was recently created by resolution of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners to help incentivize, create, and maintain affordable housing. Affordable housing trust funds are an increasingly popular tool among advocates and policymakers, particularly as a way to provide flexible funding and financing for housing. The Oakland County HSC team helped advocate for including residents with the greatest needs, along with their advocates, in the planning process for the new housing trust fund. ChangeLab Solutions provided the team with a memo on how affordable housing trust funds can include considerations for people with disabilities, and one team member used that information in their presentation to other housing stakeholders in the county.

The housing trust fund strategy is especially timely as communities seek longer-term financing solutions that can sustain affordable housing efforts long after pandemic relief ends. Housing advocates know all too well that while the pandemic exacerbated and shone a bright light on the housing crisis, the crisis existed long before that and will remain an emblem of the structural inequities embedded in our communities. Exploring the possibility of using federal relief funds to create stable housing for people with disabilities — and for their families and caregivers — is a prudent investment in addressing these inequities, given that people with disabilities face greater COVID-related health risks than the general population.

“Our team is taking important steps in the right direction to address our county’s ongoing housing crisis,” says Marc Craig. “Collaboration is the only way to create lasting change in the housing space, and the Housing Solutions Collaborative has been instrumental in allowing us to convene partners and in providing us with research to support our work and outreach efforts.”

As part of the HSC learning cohort, the Oakland County team will continue to receive support and technical assistance from ChangeLab Solutions as they pursue their policy goals. Learn more about the other cross-sector teams in the cohort and the housing policy approaches they’ve advanced.

By Patrick Glass & Tina Ansong

Photograph by Andrew Jameson, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons