(C. Proxmire, April 17, 2017)
Lansing, MI – Access to housing is not just an issue that affects low income people. In fact, all across Michigan communities of all types are struggling with a lack of diverse housing options. The aging population, as well as the population of young people just starting out their lives, are two of the more obvious groups of people that are looking for rental options as opposed to buying a home. But there also people in the “middle,” workers and professionals who may want to move for the sake of work, but have trouble finding adequate living arrangements in their price range.
One of the topics at the recent Michigan Municipal League Capital Conference dealt with just that. How can communities attract businesses, entrepreneurs, and even professionals for their own staffs if those people have nowhere to live?
Sarah Lucas, Regional Planning Manager of Networks Northwest and Kent Wood, Director of Governmental Relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce shared their insights in housing issues that are impacting places one might not think of, such as tourist towns and suburbs.
Lucas talked about Petoskey and Wood talked about Traverse City, two cities with a similar problem. In both cases, investors are moving in. New homes are being built, in tourism is increasing. However, businesses that rely on tourist income are realizing they cannot find lower wage workers. “Businesses are recruiting 20 to 60 miles away for hourly employees,” Lucas said.
Even the City itself had trouble recruiting a professional from outside the community to work there because they could not find a home. “They recruited an employee in the higher $40,000s, but they couldn’t find a home because of sticker shock.”
“We need rental housing that’s about $500 – $1,100 per month, and that’s needed through the region. We’re hundreds of units short,” she said.
In Traverse City, restaurants have begun limiting their hours because of an inability to find staff, Wood said. “It’s not just the service industry either. Seasonal workers, manufacturing, high end, high skilled, manufacturing, and hospital workers are all affected. Housing has become the key issue.”
So what are the barriers?
“We’ve done the studies. We know there’s a need. It comes down to who does it,” Lucas said. “In many communities, single family homes are the only thing being built. We need smaller multifamily units. But why we get those kinds of proposals, people come out with pitchforks and torches to shut it down…. You have to have public support. And if you don’t, you’ll watch it go down in flames. We can do everything to create an environment for development, but we fall short in public support.”
Lucas added that “developers say they won’t do it because it’s not profitable.”
Wood has similar experiences in Traverse City. “It doesn’t make sense for developers to build work force or market rate housing. There’s still a market for high and condos that developers can really make a dollar on. It comes down to profitability. We may need to rely and some cities and partnerships to get costs down.”
There it is a low income tax credit program available, but Wood said that not a lot of developers have experience in the program. Also, the program is for low income housing, not for “middle housing,” such as for medium-wage workers. He also said that it’s hard to get public support for incentives when communities are already stretched thin.
Then there is the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) idea of new construction. “Everybody will tell you to your face they understand the need for housing, but they’ll get up at the meeting and send the development down in flames… When that critical time comes, we need a group of community activists that can advocate and talked passionately about housing,” he said.
Neither speaker seemed to have a good answer for how to solve the problem of public acceptance, or how to address new housing stock needs from an economic standpoint. However the issue itself is one that is not going away, in that municipalities of all sizes need to consider.
The Michigan Municipal League offers many resources to educate officials about DDAs. Check out their guide at http://www.mml.org/resources/information/dda-packet.htm.
The Michigan Municipal League 2017 Capital Conference took place March 21-22 in Lansing. Oakland County Times will be featuring stories from the conference over the next few weeks. If you’d like to sign up for daily headlines from Oakland County Times go to https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=Oakland_County_115_News.
Other resources on “middle housing”: