If you studied your budget and figured out that 81% of your money was going toward housing expenses, you’d be in shock! You’d think something was radically wrong and try to find the answers. Generally speaking, housing costs should be no more than 30% of household income. 81% of way out of whack. 

In 2023, Neighbor by Neighbor spent 81% of its client-assistance money for housing-related expenses. $33,839 was spent for rent assistance. $3,713 was spent for mortgage assistance. $80,353 was spent for utilities. $16,794 was spent to temporarily house homeless people in local motels until they saved enough money to rent an apartment. Neighbor by Neighbor always asks people seeking help how much they can pay toward their bills, and there is an annual cap per household that Neighbor by Neighbor is able to spend. Neighbor by Neighbor works hard to be good stewards of funds, but keeping people safely housed is of the highest priority. It is much more cost-effective to keep someone safely housed than to see them slip into the homeless services system, plus it avoids the painful disruption involved.  

Harbor Country low-income neighbors severely lack affordable housing.  What contributes to the problem?  Second-home-buyers purchase homes that have been in families for generations to enjoy during the summer season. Sellers displaced cannot afford to stay in the area. The few rental apartments charge significant rent and increased their rents by as much as 50% over the last few years. Who received a 50% raise in pay? Harbor Country has a critical shortage of rental apartments and only 2 offer rent subsidies. 

Harbor Country needs to build attainable housing now. Attainable housing is not the same as homeless shelters. Rather, it is housing for employed people like teachers, bank tellers, firefighters, wait staff and store clerks.  Traverse City and other tourist-heavy areas struggle to find enough workers, especially during tourist season. Low-income people cannot afford to live nearby, and they don’t want to spend hours commuting and money on gas. Finding enough employees is especially challenging in summer. Harbor Country isn’t far behind. Ask a local employer. 

Paying utility bills takes up a significant chunk of Neighbor by Neighbor funds. Inflation is coming down slowly, but utility rate hikes are crushing  low-income budgets.  Neighbor by Neighbor staff work with seniors to enroll in AEP’s senior discount program, and other low-income households in another discount program. It helps a little, but it’s still a struggle for people on fixed incomes. People who work seasonal jobs pay off old debts over the summer and fall, but then get behind on bills during the months of October through March. They just can’t get ahead. 

You can do something to make a difference to someone on a fixed income:  Sponsor a Neighbor.  Three years ago, Neighbor by Neighbor launched the Sponsor a Neighbor program where very low-income households on fixed incomes have their monthly electricity bills paid so that they can use their meager incomes for other necessities such as food and medicine.  Donors are needed to give at least $100 each month to sponsor one neighbor. Would a group of neighbors want to undertake sponsoring clients instead of or in addition to buying holiday presents? A family could choose to forego holiday presents and ask members to donate to Neighbor by Neighbor—especially since so many of us really don’t need anything more. Donations can be made via the website (www.neighborbyneighbor.org/donate) or by sending a check made out to Neighbor by Neighbor with “Sponsor a Neighbor” in the memo to PO Box 30, Union Pier, MI. Questions? Call 269-231-0648.