Poverty Task Force Talks Affordable Housing During Traverse City Visit

“We’re really seeing the growing pains, That’s what’s interesting to me. And just the disparities.” – Luke Forrest, CEDAM

A new state housing plan is drawing extra attention to the need for affordable housing, and leaders say northern Michigan is a great place to focus their efforts.Leo Task Force

Leaders from Lansing say after two years of collecting data and holding community conversations – they’re armed with a “Statewide Housing Plan” and focusing on affordable housing. Part of the goal is to increase small-scale rental development in rural communities.

The Michigan Poverty Task Force is taking their message on tour – visiting Traverse City Wednesday to highlight northern Michigan and its neighbors in rural communities. The leaders include MSHDA (the Michigan State Housing Development Authority), and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, or LEO.

LEO Deputy Director of Prosperity Kim Trent says, “We see there is disparity in how people are able to live based on their wealth. We recognize that there is this myth that persists that poverty is an urban phenomenon. That Detroit, Flint are kind of the hubs of poverty for our state. And it’s simply not true. Four of the five counties that (the poorest) in the state of Michigan are rural counties.”

LeoThey’re spreading the word that more resources are coming to support families who need affordable housing. The task force recently released dozens of policy recommendations to help struggling Michiganders get out of poverty. Trent says they are “focusing resources that the state can bring to the table. That the federal government can bring to the table to really help with affordable housing.”

Part of the playbook is the new Statewide Housing Plan. Amy Hovey works with MSHDA and is a Special Advisor to LEO. “This is the first ever statewide housing plan in our state. Most states don’t have them… what it really does is take some time to figure out exactly what our housing needs are across the state and work with communities to determine how we meet those needs.”

The goals include housing equity, accessibility, and addressing concerns – geographically.  Hovey says it’s about targeting the efforts where “we have housing across the state where the demand for housing is, at the price point that people can afford.”

It’s been a discussion for years, but leaders say they’re finally seeing progress. “Do we have enough resources? No, we need more resources. But we certainly have more resources than we did two years ago to help make that happen here,” Hovey says. “I think the Statewide Housing Plan helps us provide a framework for how to get there. So I definitely think there’s hope. We have a lot of money coming through the state government to support the development of affordable housing. We know what we need to do. We’re working to build the capacity to make it happen.”

CommongroundsThe Commongrounds Cooperative on 8th Street in Traverse City is an example of some of the new housing coming to northern Michigan. There will be 20 units for rent: long-term, at all different price points. The first will be available coming up by the end of September.

Luke Forrest is with the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) based in Lansing. But he’s also a Benzie County native. He calls Commongrounds “an innovative project. They’re trying things that a lot of people have talked about but haven’t really done with the cooperative model. With multiple funders, small dollar funders… that’s something that’s really hard to do,” he says. “This Commongrounds project we hope can be a model for other projects around the region and around the state.”

And Forrest is glad to bring a northern Michigan perspective to the discussion. “A lot of folks in Lansing are looking to this region to say ‘show us how to do this right.’ So I think there’s a lot of opportunity. And there’s historic money from the federal and state government that we’ve never had before.”