Posted by John Ester on Dec 04, 2018
Sarah Lucas is the Director of Community Development for Networks Northwest.  A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Sarah is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners and has been a practicing planner in Northwest Michigan for over 15 years.
Sarah works with local governments and other community stakeholders in the ten-county Northwest Michigan region.  She analyzed the planning problems faced by Benzie County. Tourism-related industries account for 25% of the region's jobs, a figure that is projected to rise.  But there is not enough housing nor enough laborers to meet the demand.  Similarly, the area is under-served medically, but in the absence of suitable housing health care services have trouble recruiting.  Likewise economic development in manufacturing and construction is being held down by the housing shortage.
Thus the common denominator in these areas is a housing shortage.  Sarah analyzed the reasons for the shortage, as well as possible solutions.  We live in a retirement community, and younger workers who left during the 2008-2009 recession have not been replaced. Thus, seniors represent a growing part of our population, and their preference is for single-family housing. To the extent such housing is being converted, it is to seasonal housing.  As was apparent in the Q&A, homeowners in a resort area can make far more renting their homes on a weekly or monthly basis than with other types of investments.  Furthermore, residents in upscale areas frequently oppose low-income housing projects in their neighborhood.  And developers and others at the production end are drawn to the construction of more expensive homes that will yield greater profits.
What to do about this?  Sarah says that there are no silver bullets, but she outlined a number of approaches:
  • Rethinking density and finding the"Missing Middle" of small homes, multi-family and accessory dwellings.
  • Incentive grants
  • Local policy--zoning measures and tax increases
  • State policy
  • Education and support
  • Assistance for developers and non-profits
  • Public/private partnerships
  • residential development in commercial districts or historic buildings
With support from Rotary the Northwest Michigan Rural Housing Partnership was recently formed to address these issues.