Michigan’s Wayne County – a crime-ridden and economically-depressed area in an economically anemic state – has decided to spend $1.2 million to construct refugee housing in the small city of Hamtramck (which is surrounded by the city of Detroit). This not only seems expensive and wasteful, but also underscores the high cost of refugee resettlement schemes.
Wayne County is partnering with non-profit groups Samaritas (formerly known as Lutheran Social Services of Michigan) and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (WMCAA) to build three duplexes for six refugee families on an empty lot on Faber Street in Hamtramck. Dubbed “Freedom Village,” the development is expected to open in June 2020.
The funding – $1.2 million – will come from a grant provided for building low-income housing by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD), i.e. the U.S. taxpayer. According to Wayne County, the program in question is called the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which “supports affordable housing by providing rental housing and homeownership opportunities for low-income families.” Wayne County will loan the money – at zero percent interest – to the WMCAA.
The county leadership is “really excited,” according to Hamtramck mayor Karen Majewski. In addition to assisting refugees, the county is also eager to turn the empty lots into houses that will generate property tax revenue. The county government and other “Freedom Village” advocates also argues that refugees will help revitalize the local economy. At least that is how the project is being sold.
According to WXYZ Detroit: “The goal is to take in families for about a year, providing them with low income rent and allowing time to adjust to life here in the states before finding their own home. That way, new families needing shelter can continue to circulate in.”
And yet the $1.2-million figure is part of the even more expensive undertaking. According to a February 2018 FAIR study, the annual cost to U.S. taxpayers of refugee and asylee resettlement is $1.8 billion – and over five years, that financial burden skyrockets to $8.8 billion. This totals $15,900 per refugee, annually, or just under $79,600 per refugee over their first five years in America. Thus, while the United States has an ethical obligation to assist refugees, large-scale resettlement turns out to be a highly inefficient way of doing it, and constrains our ability to help more people around the world.
As Matthew O’Brien and Spencer Raley pointed out, “the U.S. should begin using its considerable economic, diplomatic and military influence to de-escalate the conflicts that give rise to refugees. In situations where de-escalation is not possible, the U.S. should provide direct assistance to refugees within, or nearby, their country of origin, rather than relocating them to the United States. These alternatives are both more cost-effective – up to 10 times cheaper – and safer for the American public, than resettling refugees in the United States.”