It seems as if every recent discussion of community issues circles around to housing. This regional concern includes a number of facets; a lack of available housing, a lack of housing that the average worker can afford, the high cost of construction, and more.
At the 3rd annual Housing Summit hosted by Networks Northwest on October 16, Patrick Moran, President of the Great Ottawa County United Way, told the audience “There is no market solution to this problem.” Mr. Moran’s statement was confirmed by Bob Filka, Chief Executive Officer of the Home Builders Association of Michigan (HBA). “The math doesn’t work,” Mr. Filka said, when discussing the construction of homes that could sell for under $150,000.
There are many reasons for this—rising lumber costs, rising property costs, the difficulty of obtaining construction loans, the loss of construction workers from the industry during the recession, etc.—and a result is a growing number of people working in our communities who can’t afford to live in them. Clearly, housing is an issue with an impact on economic development.
Another component of this complex mix is the fact that the makeup of our households is changing. Though we tend to think that a typical household is a married couple with children, Laurie Volk of Zimmerman/Volk Associates notes that “Only 21.5% of American households fit that definition.” Drilling down further, 59% of U.S. households have only 1 or 2 people. In Northwest Lower Michigan that percentage can be over 70%.
So how do we make the math work? The HBA and other organizations are working toward legislative changes with the potential to make the construction landscape friendlier to new development. Until that happens, however, successful efforts will be local. One example can be found in Kalamazoo County, where voters approved a 0.1 millage in 2015 to bolster their Local Housing Assistance Fund. Another example is the model provided by Mr. Moran, where local business and government leaders work together to find solutions.
Housing problems in our region are not new, but they have grown to a point where they are impacting business growth. It is up to all of us to find housing strategies that work for our communities, and given the robust attendance at the Housing Summit, our community leaders are rolling up their sleeves and working on the math.
For more information, contact Northern Lakes Economic Alliance at email@example.com. Information about the Housing Summit is available at http://www.networksnorthwest.org under the Planning & Policy tab.