TC Planning Commission, Commissioners Working to Solve Housing Problem

"It's a need that is out there in terms of affordability and availability. Both of them are issues that we're struggling with." Traverse City Planning Director, Shawn Winter

The struggle for housing in Traverse City continues as the Planning Commission met with Commissioners Monday to discuss the city’s housing profile. The Executive Director of Housing North, Yarrow Brown, says the housing problem is turning into a crisis.

Housing 2“We know the bulk of the need for housing in our 10 county region is in Grand Traverse County and that Traverse City is a hub for a lot of that. So, I would say the situation is dire,” Brown says.

The housing problem spans across all of northwest Michigan, but Traverse City is among the most unaffordable. The Traverse City Planning Director, Shawn Winter, says the goal of Monday’s meeting was to give commissioners the numbers on the current housing stock.

“In this last year we issued more permits for dwelling units than anytime in our history,” Winter states.

The city normally issues between 130 and 150 permits per year. This year the city issued 447 permits for new dwelling units. A dwelling unit is an independent living quarters that has a sleeping area, a bathroom and a kitchen. Winter told city commissioners at this evenings meeting that they still don’t have enough units to meet the demand. Although, he says he hopes the meeting lights a fire under commissioners.

“And then from there we can move into continuing the conversations and develop policy to improve the housing situation and address some of those barriers,” Winter hopes.

However, the issue isn’t as simple as giving the green light to build more houses. The Executive Officer for the Home Builders Association (HBA) of the Grand Traverse Area, Robert O’Hara says the problem is capacity.

“If they were to come out tomorrow and say, ‘okay great, we’re going to do 100 houses a year, and now builder you need to step up and do that.’ The builders don’t have the capacity to do that,” O’Hara explains. “That’s another challenge. We can’t simply say, “Lets come up with a plan to build houses and do it.’ That plan has to include building the capacity to increase the crews as well.”

O’Hara says that during the Great Recession in 2008 Michigan lost 30% of it’s builders and builder crews. The HBA is working to solve the builder shortage by cooperating with NorthwesternHousing 3 Michigan College, The Builders Exchange and a number of other partners to bring new people to the field. He says he hopes city planners and commissioners don’t miss that there is still a builder shortage.

“Best case scenario is that they’re looking long term. This isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan where they say, ‘hey we’re going to put work into this into the next three years and it’ll solved’ because it won’t. It took us a long time to get into this situation and frankly, it’s going to take a long time to get out of it,” O’Hara says.

Winter says he’s aware of the builders shortage and believes a policy change is necessary in order to get people the help they need. He says he hopes Monday’s meeting is a step in the right direction in getting the city’s housing issue under control.

“To those that are struggling to find housing here, I would say, the city commission hears you. They’re committed to addressing this issue,” Winter states.