‘Rent is Too Damn High’ coalition calls Sept. 5 rally at Michigan Capitol
Housing activists with the Rent is Too Damn High Coalition are preparing for a Sept. 5 rally at the Michigan State Capitol. | Images via Rent is Too Damn High

LANSING, Mich.—A statewide coalition known as “Rent is Too Damn High” will descend on Michigan State Capitol on Sept. 5 to protest escalating costs of housing in the state. According to the coalition’s press coordinator, Lindsey Barchard, well over 600 people had pledged to join the protest at the capitol by early August.

The Sept. 5 rally will include a DJ, chanting and marching, spoken word poetry, multiple speakers, and an area for people to share their own housing stories. “Our plan for the 5th is to make as much noise as possible,” Bachard said, “to convey to the legislators the sheer volume of Michigan’s residents who are becoming increasingly desperate for change.”

Rents in Michigan have grown rapidly over the past few years as urban gentrification projects have been offered as the main solution for economic woes. According to recent media reports, a typical renter in 2023 must earn an average of $21.65 per hour to afford basic housing in the state.

The state’s minimum wage, however, remains locked in at a paltry $10.10 per hour, and the “tipped” hourly minimum is $3.84. In addition, an anachronistic statewide ban on rent control has also fueled skyrocketing housing costs.

The Rent is Too Damn High rally will “raise awareness and put pressure on lawmakers to take action to address the full-blown housing crisis in our state,” Barchard said.

Sept. 5 was chosen because it will be the first day of the state’s new legislative session. Democrats, who control both houses and the governor’s office, promised to solve the state’s ongoing housing problems when they took power in 2023. Activists intend to hold them to their pledge.

Coalition leaders are calling for three major steps to ease the costs of housing:

  • 1) Remove the ban on rent control;
  • 2) Put $4 billion toward “social housing”; and
  • 3) Designate $1 billion for housing services for people who are at risk of homelessness.

The coalition’s demand for “social housing” funds refers to the goal to expand a permanently affordable “public option for housing,” which would remain “under democratic community control by non-profit and cooperative entities.”

Funds for housing services would aim to boost programs of direct service, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing for at-risk folks.

These proposals do more to support working-class people than many urban renewal or gentrification schemes. According to Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), which has been the only local media to cover that city’s housing crisis in careful detail, public money for gentrification projects dramatically outpaced resources to support at-risk households. Indeed, a recent city measure that would criminalize the unhoused, GRIID reported, signaled a distortion of priorities that favor developers over workers.

While Rent Is Too Damn High was initially conceived solely to organize the September rally, the immense attention and support gained during these last few months have the coalition discussing a post-rally existence, with the goal of escalating actions further until the state legislature takes meaningful action.

“With the state of housing security and housing conditions continuing to worsen for the residents of Michigan, our work is far from over,” said a statement from the coalition, “but our September 5 rally is an exciting jumping-off point for what is becoming a huge movement that we believe will foster real change in our state.”

The coalition, which began as a Lansing-based movement, now includes more than two dozen organizations and groups from across the state. These include Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice, Michigan State University’s chapter of Sunrise, Detroit Action, the Michigan District of the Communist Party USA, Nation Outside, Greater Lansing Democratic Socialists of America, and many other state, regional, and local organizations.

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