That‘s one of the issues to be addressed at an upcoming conference on “Creating Housing Choices“ in northwest Michigan.
“Affordable housing is a regional issue,“ says Sarah Lucas, coordinator of Community Housing Choices, a program of the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. “It‘s not a single topic -- it touches on our local economy, transportation, and land-use issues.“
For instance, from an economic standpoint, Lucas notes that a concern of new businesses interested in relocating to Northern Michigan is whether there will be affordable housing for their employees.
“And in terms of transportation or land-use, when there‘s a lack of affordable housing in town, that contributes to sprawl and more traffic on local roads,“ she adds.
In Northern Michigan, more than 60% of the population is considered to be in the “low income“ range in regard to what it takes to purchase an affordable home.
“A household falls in the low-income range if it earns less than 80% of the area‘s median income,“ Lucas says.
Median income refers to the halfway point between the lowest and highest incomes in a given area.
In Grand Traverse County, the median income is $62,000 for a family of four. “So that means that if your family earns $49,000 or less, you are a low-income household.“
At a $49,000 income range, an “affordable“ home would be $125,000 --difficult to find within the city limits of Traverse City or Petoskey.
By 2010, it‘s estimated that “more than 44,000 families in our five-county region will be earning less than 80% of the median income, or less than $47,000 for a family of four in Grand Traverse County.“
The disparity between income and housing prices is driving Traverse City workers out of town to rural communities in Fife Lake, Grawn, Interlochen and Kingsley. In Petoskey, workers may drive in from Alanson or Boyne City.
Even city employees may not make enough to live where they work, notes Matt McCauley, associate director of Community Housing Choices.
He notes that Traverse City recently advertised a firefighter‘s position that paid $38,000 per year. “Using the median income formula, that means that a city employee can‘t afford to live in the city in which they serve,“ he says. “There‘s a bit of irony in that.“
McCauley make clear that low income housing isn‘t the same as government-subsidized housing for the indigent poor, which has been a turn-off in many communities across the country. “It‘s not a handout or an advocacy group for those in poverty -- we‘re just trying to provide a minimal level of support for the area‘s workforce, and that can be teachers, firefighters and other members of the community.“
Lucas is one such example: she qualified as a low-income earner and moved into a specially-intended affordable housing unit at the Midtown Center development in Traverse City five years ago.
At the conference, realtors, municipalities and members of the Grand Vision project, among others, plan to discuss strategies for easing the housing crunch in Northern Michigan, including:
downsizing lot sizes in rural townships, where minimum lot requirements may be as much as 10 acres per home;
downsizing home sizes;
encouraging ‘mixed-use‘ communities of residential, office and retail spaces;
allowing ‘granny flats‘ and other creative housing options.
Speaking will be Julie Bornstein, former director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development and president of the nonprofit group Campaign for Affordable Housing. She will explain “why safe, decent, affordable housing is essential in creating healthy economies and vibrant communities.“
The Creating Housing Choices Conference will be held Thursday, March 13 at the NMC-Hagerty Center in Traverse City, with all welcome. Registration forms and the conference agenda are available online at: