Housing Study Shows Regional Needs, Good News and Bad News

“This certainly is not a surprise, the data’s been displaying these trends for many years, really.” - Robert Carson, Networks Northwest

A revised look at the state of housing in Northwest Michigan, and it has local agencies calling for more cooperation. A new study by Networks Northwest identifies a shortage of housing throughout the region. While that’s no surprise, the solutions call on both the public and private sector to be willing to make changes.

Robert Carson is the Networks Northwest Community Development Director, and says “I wish there was an easy cure-all to the problem.” Networks Northwest knows housing shortage has been a consistent problem for years. Particularly, what’s considered “middle housing”. Carson says, “That’s away from single-family housing and high-rises. (Instead, it’s) Duplexes, triplex, apartment complex, accessory dwelling units on residential lots.” Housing Apartments

The report shows a continued need for apartments and other types of multi-family housing, while also showing that single-family homes are unaffordable for many to buy – or even rent. “The availability of single-family housing is outside of the attainable price range, due to increasing housing costs,” Carson says. “We’ve been hearing from employers across the region that are having difficulties recruiting workforce and talent…. without appropriate housing…. It drastically is going to slow our growth and our economic development.”

Yarrow Brown is the Executive Director for Housing North. “I think what we’re seeing is people in our community, year-round workforce housing, do not make enough to actually meet the price of what homes are for sale right now.”

Housing StudyWhile multi-family options aren’t always popular, especially in existing neighborhoods and communities, Carson says they’re increasingly vital. “It can be a very contentious issue. I know ‘density’ is not a favorable term to a lot of communities. But we need to start looking at areas … within our northwest Michigan region that allow for greater density and availability of housing options.”

Yarrow says, that also means encouraging development around existing resources. “Bus lines, schools. Water lines, existing infrastructure. We’re not opposed to development out in the country but it is more expensive.”

The Networks Northwest study shows there are many different types of housing needed across northwest Michigan, but to make it happen, they need the buy-in and the commitment from local units of government – and from developers. Carson says government can “provide some insight and change direction, and alter policies to make it a little more inviting and a less cumbersome for development to occur within their communities.”Housing Needs

The study says local governments need to remove “archaic planning and zoning policies that unnecessarily raise the cost of housing and limit the types of housing available.”

The vacation rental market (STR) has also made it difficult, “crowding out” long term renters who are looking for stable housing. The report states that while “the northwest region of Michigan is home to only 3% of the state’s population it contains 25% of the state’s STR listings.” Brown says, “We have a lot of properties being scooped up for short-term rentals right now which doesn’t alleviate the availability of year-round housing.”Housing Study 2

Carson says it would also help if builders and developers got on board. He says larger single-family homes typically have a larger profit margin for builders and developers. But those homes won’t fix the crisis. And, he adds that “there is also a short supply of builders currently, for what is desired to be constructed within our region.”

The study points to good news that more nonprofits, public agencies, local governments, and the private sector are working together to solve the issues. Brown says, “We know the need is great and we know we need to make some changes.”