During the past year or so, one theme has become increasingly prevalent as I travel the state and talk to leaders from communities of all shapes and sizes: Michigan’s current housing supply is not keeping up with modern needs. That’s true whether you’re coming from the perspective of business owner trying to recruit & retain talented workers, a lake town trying to make the most of tourist attention, or an hourly wage worker trying to find an affordable option for your family.
The rising interest in this topic was evidenced by the large turnout last week at Networks Northwest’s Housing Summit. Public, non-profit and private sector leaders from the entire northwest lower peninsula gathered to share and celebrate successes, but also air challenges and frustrations.
First the good news: necessity has been the mother of invention, as communities are trying creative solutions to the housing supply problem. The cities of Charlevoix and Frankfort and the counties of Benzie and Leelanau were recognized for their housing partnerships at the Summit. Patrick Moran joined the event from the Holland region to share the inspiring story of cross-sector collaboration behind the Housing Next initiative. I shared additional examples of success that cities are finding through their participation in MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program.
These are all inspiring case studies of community leadership and innovation. But the uphill climb Charlevoix, Frankfort, Holland and hundreds of others are facing is intimidating and the mood much of the day was dour. Housing advocates in Michigan are facing numerous obstacles, including dwindling state and federal resources, lack of capacity on both the public and private sides of the equation, local political opposition to new development and an outdated public policy environment.
Networks Northwest, Ottawa Housing Next and others working in this field should be commended for their tireless efforts and innovative approaches. But they can’t overcome all these obstacles alone. What can the rest of us do to help?