Oshtemo Township is working on a plan to build housing for the future

KALAMAZOO, MI – The price of a new home in Oshtemo Township is rising – up 11.6 percent from an average of about $344,000 in 2021 to about $384,000 in 2022.
The population of the township, located on the western border of the City of Kalamazoo, has grown – from about 19,000 residents in mid-2004 to nearly 24,000 in 2021. And that growth is expected to continue.
Those are considered good things – indicators that the township is growing and is a place where more people want to live. But those things are a problem if members of the community don’t have places to live. Or have places that newcomers will find attractive.
“There’s a housing crisis,” says Oshtemo Township Planning Director Iris Lubbert. “Our population is growing and we just don’t have the housing stock here.”
Emily Petz, a community development coordinator with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, says, “What we’re seeing is that even though the population is growing and prices are increasing, the pace of construction has not kept pace.”
That is a problem in lots of communities across the country, says Lubbert. But she says, “We’re trying to do our part and help guide our community.” So Oshtemo Township, the area’s fastest-growing municipality, is working to formulate a housing action plan.
A draft of the plan will be presented on Thursday, April 13, 2023, by Petz to the Oshtemo Township Planning Commission. It includes data that was culled from a survey of 503 township residents, as well as three meetings of community stakeholders (held in late 2022), six planning commission meetings, and four public meetings (the last two of which were held in March).
Oshtemo Township Planning Director Iris Lubbert“It (the action plan) doesn’t just look at current housing statistics and numbers and where we are going,” Lubbert explains. “It will give suggestions and policies, ideas, ordinance updates, and other things to help guide the direction of housing in Oshtemo.”
Lubbert says the township is trying to do its part to help guide housing development in the community. “Development happens,” she says, “and this gives some opportunity to kind of determine how. So we have a say basically.”
Approximately 21.2 percent of those who responded to the township’s housing survey said they think the township needs to build more single-family housing, 13.8 percent said they want to see more cottage court/bungalow court/tiny home village-style housing, and 11.4 percent see a need for more duplex or triplex-style housing.
Respondents said they think finding housing in the right price range was the greatest challenge for renters.
Has home-building languished?
“Overall the trend is since 2008 (recession) basically housing production has decreased drastically and is not meeting demand,” Lubbert says. “… “In addition to that, the cost of construction has sky-rocketed. So we need to try to find ways to help decrease the cost of construction to encourage not only developers but make units affordable for people to buy.”
Emily Petz, Community Development Coordinator with W.E. Upjohn InstitutePetz says data indicate there will be a demand for about 7,750 additional housing units throughout Kalamazoo County by 2030. She expects 500 to 1,000 of those new units to be built in Oshtemo.
The action plan will, in effect, be an attempt to break up the status quo for housing in the township. The majority of the township is zoned Rural/Residential and only single-family residential construction is permitted in most of the western portions of the township.
“Right now our ordinances pretty much allow for up to fourplexes, but mostly single-family homes, and then larger apartment buildings in our denser areas,” Luppert says. “There’s that ‘missing middle.’ Right now our ordinances really have this huge gap of this missing middle category.”
The missing middle category includes most of the housing styles between large apartment complexes and single-family home construction, Petz says,
“It basically generally captures anything from a duplex to a live-work type of building,” Lubbert says. “You’re talking duplexes, fourplexes, courtyard buildings, cottage courts, townhomes, mixed-use with a commercial bottom floor and residential above. All of those things in the middle are very much lacking or almost non-existent.”
A sample question from the Oshtemo Housing Survey provided by the W.E. Upjohn Institute.Petz says people who have responded to the planning process have different opinions on what types of housing should be developed. But she says, “They generally love Oshtemo Township.”
She encourages people to attend upcoming planning meetings. “We’re continuing to review goals, objectives, and strategies in the Planning Commission meetings,” Petz says. “So anyone who is interested in being a part of the process can come to these meetings.” 

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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.