Improving housing options in the area puts the community on the path to economic growth

If you want to boost Bay City’s economy, start by talking to your neighbors.

During the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Eye Opener Breakfast on Wednesday morning, real estate developer Jenifer Acosta said investing in our homes and neighborhoods is the path to growing the economy.

Acosta, who owns Acosta Real Estate & Development and has an extensive record of successful projects in the Great Lakes Bay Region, explained how creating high-quality, affordable housing drives economic development. Her talk was titled “Housing IS Economic Development.”

One of the age-old questions in development is what comes first – jobs or housing? Traditionally, the answer was jobs, Acosta said. People found jobs and then looked for housing.

With the option of remote work growing, that’s flipping. Now, people often decide where they want to live and then start looking for a job. That means quality housing drives economic growth, Acosta explained.

You don’t have to hold a real estate license to improve the housing stock and start building the economy, Acosta added.

“Housing is one of the greatest economic multipliers there is,” Acosta said. “Every neighborhood in this city has a city neighborhood group and organization and they all need new blood. That is one of the best things we can do.”

The Legacy building in Downtown Bay City was vacant for several years before being renovated into a restaurant and condominiums.If you live in the city, Acosta said finding your neighborhood group is as easy as contacting Community Development Director Debbie Kiesel. If you don’t want to join a formal organization, then invite the neighbors over for dinner and talk about what you’d like to see change in your neighborhood. These conversations are the beginnings of placemaking, which is the process of strengthening the connection between public spaces and the people who live in our neighborhoods.

“Placemaking is about taking action,” Acosta told the audience. “It is about how do we create really great things in the South End where we’ve got vacant lots? How do we do things with art and programming? How do we activate our neighborhoods? How do we brand them?”

Those conversations matter.

“Talk to your neighbors. Have Sunday dinner with your neighbors. Sit down and chat and say ‘What’s the biggest issue we have right now?’ ”

Then, take that issue to your government leaders and figure out how you can work with public entities and together start solving the problems you identified.

Another piece of the puzzle is creating opportunities for young families to build wealth through real estate. In other parts of the country, for example, Acosta said duplexes sell for $80,000. The owner lives in one half and rents out the other half, covering the mortgage. In this area, though, that model isn’t readily available.

The stages of the Legacy's redevelopment“Our rentals and our duplexes are owned by investors and landlords and they’re both rented out,” she said. “There’s no ownership opportunities. How do we actually start helping people build generational wealth and maintain their homes if we don’t have the opportunities?”

Our communities don’t have enough of what is called “middle housing.” The missing middle housing is quality residential units at attainable price points. These affordable homes let people invest in their communities, build local businesses, and create tax revenue for cities. In this Aug. 20, 2020 Route Bay City article, you can learn more about one of Acosta’s projects that addressed this need.

Acosta also advocated streamlining the systems that support people looking for housing. In Bay City, there are seven housing agencies to help people. Across the region, 25 agencies exist. That means people looking for help are forced to spend valuable time going from agency to agency trying to find what they need.

“When you’re working and you’re struggling and you have to ask for help, and ask for help repeatedly, and drive and go to this office and that office and do all of these things, that’s difficult,” she said.

It takes hard work to resolve housing issues that go back for generations. But potential payoff of doing that work and creating opportunities is huge.

“We get people that come in all the time who choose Bay City,” she said. “They see the potential in our city. I just finished renovating some properties over in Midland. I have seven sold. Four of them are to out-of-town buyers. They choose to come and live in this region. Anymore, (people) choose the character, they choose the quality of housing they want, and then they find a job.”