Yarrow Brown, executive director of Housing North, and Jon Stimson, executive director of HomeStretch Housing, outside of Vineyard View Apartments in Suttons Bay.
The housing market in Michigan is experiencing many inequities, creating obstacles and barriers for many of its residents when it comes to housing. Coupled with the long-lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the access to safe, healthy, affordable, attainable housing has even more disparities.
For the first time, the State of Michigan has released a statewide housing plan in an effort to address these complex, comprehensive challenges in a coordinated, collaborative way. Working with stakeholders across the housing sector, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA)
reviewed national housing trends and innovations, interviewed housing experts and focus groups, surveyed homeowners, renters, potential buyers and landlords, and engaged with partners and stakeholders across the state.
The Statewide Housing Plan
was released in June 2022 with a breakdown of action steps across a five-year timeline. Its priorities include equity and racial justice, preventing and ending homelessness, older adult housing, homeownership, housing ecosystem, housing stock, rental housing, and communication and education.
Yarrow Brown and Jon Stimson check out the interior of affordable Vineyard View Apartments in Suttons Bay.
Statewide housing plan is years in the making
Tim Klont, director of partnerships and engagement at MSHDA, says his primary focus is currently on implementing Michigan’s first Statewide Housing Plan, which has been years in the making.
“Planning began In August of 2020, and, after extensive research and engagement that included more than 7,000 individuals, Michigan published its very first Statewide Housing Plan in June 2022,” Klont says.
Klont notes that the plan seeks to accomplish specific objectives.
Tim Klont, Director of Partnerships and Strategy, MSHDA
“First, we want to cultivate and sustain a connected and collaborative housing ecosystem. A lot of individuals, organizations, and sectors touch or have something to do with housing, and so something we hope to achieve through the Statewide Housing Plan and subsequently through regional action plans is bringing those interests together into a housing ecosystem,” he says.
“Second, the plan has a goal of supporting the production and preservation of at least 75,000 housing units. Beyond those two purposes, the plan also has eight priorities, 37 goals, and 134 strategies, so it’s a very comprehensive plan as well.”
According to the Plan, 1.5 million or 38 percent of households across Michigan struggle to afford the basic necessities of housing, child care, food, technology, health care, and transportation. Fifty-seven percent of Michigan’s residents in 49 of 83 counties in total spend more than 57% of their income on housing and transportation. With the current housing stock aging, with nearly half of all units built prior to 1970, the need for new constructed units is evident. The demand is high, but the supply is still not near where it ought to be. The Plan states that the average number of building permits for new construction issued between 2016 and 2020 is less than half of what it was between 1986 and 2006.
The Plan hopes to address these needs and to reach the following targets in the next five years: Add 75,000+ new or rehab housing units (39,000+ affordable rental units, 21,500+ market-rate units, 13,500+ homeownership opportunities for low-and moderate-income households, 1,000+ units of workforce housing.) It also aims to stabilize 100,000+ household’s housing, reduce equity gaps, homelessness, and increase home energy efficiency.
The Statewide Housing Plan was released in June 2022 with a breakdown of action steps across a five-year timeline.
The goals are lofty, but Klont says by working collaboratively with organizations, individuals, and stakeholders on a collective goal, progress can be made.
The Plan designates 15 different geographic regions around the state, each with their own distinctive demographic, economic, and housing characteristics. Each region has at least one lead agency chosen by regional stakeholders, each with the task of growing their own ecosystem and developing an action plan in support of the statewide goal.
“We’re now 15 months into the five-year Statewide Housing Plan,” Klont says. “It’s still very early, but I am optimistic that we are on track to meet or exceed the statewide goal of producing or preserving at least 75,000 housing units over the course of the five-year action plan.”
Klont says the regional action plans are now being implemented by individual communities, which will have their own timeline of when those goals can be met. Some growing communities need to address housing quantity, and others require housing quality, given the varying region’s needs.
“This Plan has given us a new opportunity to work with these regional housing partnership leads across the state and really have them be messengers and conduits for us about what’s really happening on the ground in their communities, and what they’re hearing from the stakeholders in those communities,” Klont says.
Yarrow Brown chats with a colleague at Housing North's offices.
Housing North addresses housing needs of Traverse City residents
Yarrow Brown is the executive director of Housing North
, a 10-county regional nonprofit formed in 2018. The organization focuses on three key areas: communications and awareness, policy and advocacy, and providing technical resources to the region regarding housing.
Brown says the rural community has mostly single family zoning with limited opportunities to expand the housing count. She hopes through the organization’s leveraging of new tools and legislative policy change, the local landscape can change.
Located within Region D of the Statewide Housing Plan, Housing North covers the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula in Michigan. The pandemic inevitably impacted this region, which relies on tourism as an economic driver. Many year-round rentals were taken off the market by owners, and more people moved to the area because of the opportunity for remote work.
“We’re a tourist destination, and we saw an increase in short-term rentals and the increase of use in Airbnbs during the pandemic, which definitely impacted our year-round housing stock,” Brown says.
Housing North works with local nonprofit developers including the healthcare system, homelessness coalitions, community foundations, chambers of commerce, economic development groups, school districts, and churches.
Part of their programming includes the Housing Ready Program
in four counties: Charlevoix, Emmet, Manistee, and Leelanau. Recent state funding will hopefully allow the program to expand to all ten counties for a year.
“We don’t put people in the housing, nor do we build the housing,” Brown says. “We are really connecting people with those resources, helping the different communities that don’t have staff providing that technical support to help navigate some of the zoning changes and master plan updates.”
Region D’s priority areas
are housing ecosystem, preventing and ending homelessness, and housing stock. Each area has its own goals and strategies, too. The overall goal is to hopefully leverage more funding and resources specifically for the region, according to Brown.
“There is going to be some work to do before we really see the results, but our region is eager, anxious, and ready to move,” Brown says.
Coolidge Park Apartments, a Communities First, Inc. project.
Communities First, Inc. provides housing resources for Flint community
Essence Wilson is the chief strategy officer at Communities First, Inc
., an organization with a mission to empower people and build communities. Keeping the community first in all of their work, they aim to build vibrant communities through economic development, affordable housing and innovative programming. They are one of the co-leads for Region H within the Statewide Housing Plan.
Essence Wilson, chief strategy officer at Communities First, Inc.
“We started in 2010, and our first project was affordable housing for seniors. It really came out of being able to see some of the housing conditions that seniors were living in, and having a desire, as Flint natives, to do something about that,” Wilson says.
Founded by Glenn and Essence Wilson, Housing First has expanded greatly from its inaugural $5.1 million project, Oak Street Senior Apartments
“As we have gotten deeper into the housing situation, we have learned a tremendous amount and gotten involved in a lot of different arenas when it relates to housing and community development,” Wilson says.
Within Genesee County and the greater Flint community, most of the needs the area sees are aging housing stock, lack of housing units, and a substantial homelessness population, notes Wilson.
“We need more diverse housing types, so rental housing, single-family homes that are updated and to-code. There’s also a desire for townhomes or condos, and we just don’t have the right mix of housing to match the needs,” Wilson says. “The last report I saw said we needed about 7,000 affordable housing units in Genesee County.”
The Grand on University, a Communities First, Inc. project.
Communities First, Inc. utilizes federal, state, and local funding to support the construction of new and rehabbed housing. They have completed several developments. The most recent project, The Grand on University
, is under construction right now. The development will provide residents with 48 market-rate, one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, with residents moving in at the end of the year..
In addition to governmental entities, the organization partners with other social service agencies including mental health providers, local shelters, and banking partners.
“We take a holistic approach to our community development work, so getting people into housing is one thing, but we are also very cognizant of the fact that they need other support beyond that,” Wilson says. “Our portfolio of work has really grown.”
Wilson says the Statewide Housing Plan is extremely important for all, regardless of being rural or urban communities. She is grateful to be part of a life-changing organization that gives people tools to be self-sufficient and create generational wealth.
“As an organization, we are fortunate that we get to see individuals go from needing a home to having a home, and then supporting them in being able to keep it,” she says. “They can then transition away from us to becoming homeowners and do things they did not think were possible thanks to the support they found.”
Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at email@example.com.
Photos by John Russell.
Other photos courtesy Community First Inc. and MSHDA.
Supported by FHLBank Indianapolis and the Community Economic Development Association
(CEDAM), the Block by Block series follows small-scale minority-driven development and affordable housing issues in the state of Michigan.