Traverse City Hosts Workforce Housing Brainstorming Session

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Community leaders met Monday night to hear about possible funding sources for housing development. It’s an ongoing problem, one that is still on the agenda for 2019 and beyond.

The Opportunity Resource Fund is a non-profit group with a revolving loan fund that’s been lending in Northern Michigan since 1998. They’re trying to create a five million dollar fund to fill in the gaps for those communities that need more housing.

President and CEO Christi Narayanan says, “We’ve heard from CEOs in the region that we can’t find enough employees because they can’t find a place to live.”

It’s the financing piece that’s often been a barrier.

Sarah Lucas is the Community Development Director with Networks Northwest.

She says banks have been reluctant to loan for new developments or mixed-income housing in the northern Michigan region.

“There’s all kinds of reasons that it’s a difficult problem to solve, but one of the biggest ones is funding,” she says. “It’s just nearly impossible to make developments work and still be affordable.”

And, she says, workforce housing can mean different things to different people.

“It can mean people who are earning $20,000 a year, it can be people earning $60-70,000 a year,” Lucas says.

Traditional subsidies are hard for Northern Michigan to compete over. Those dollars often go to larger, downstate communities.

But working with the Opportunity Resource Fund, Northport in Leelanau County is getting grassroots funding, according to “Leelanau Reach” Project Manager Chris Frey.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to grow as a concept,” Frey says.

We’ve developed a case study model that’s occurring without government funding, no government subsidies.”

Narayanan adds that new funding models could address a wide range of needs.

“It could be for an apartment complex, for multi-family, it could be for single family development,” she says. “These leaders agree, a place to call home is important, and it’s hard to find and keep a job if you don’t have a place to live.”