Housing Solutions on the Horizon

Posted by on November 1, 2021

“We really wanted to move to Marquette, but we couldn’t find a house – everything’s selling too fast.” This comment, overheard last week, is a story that’s become familiar in Marquette County and illustrates one of the interesting challenges we face in this interesting time: our red-hot real estate market is great for sellers, but has been putting a dent in our ability to attract much-needed new residents and workers to the region. Clearly, there’s a strong market for all types of housing, which we see play out in new construction that’s ongoing and planned throughout Marquette County. While it sometimes gets pushback – as any community change does – this development is essential for meeting the housing needs that are profoundly impacting our economy and workforce. Because those needs reflect a shortage of supply in the face of strong demand, any new housing will help take pressure off the market. New homes for even one segment of the market allows current residents to move, creating more vacant properties that are available for the next tier of buyers or renters – and so on down the line. Building more homes is the obvious solution to housing shortages. But development is an expensive, complicated proposition, fraught with issues from building costs to infrastructure to public opposition. These layered challenges require coordinated action from all parts of the community – and some patience, as there aren’t any quick fixes to the structural issues that have suppressed housing construction over the last 15 years. The good news is that coordinated work has begun in Marquette County. On the public side, local governments are working on zoning changes and incentives for housing – and are coordinating their work for greater impact. The new Intergovernmental Housing Task Force, with support from the LSCP and representatives from local governments throughout Marquette County, are working together to advocate for state resources and take regional action on new housing solutions. This work is especially important as opportunities for new housing funds and housing-friendly legislation pick up steam at the state level, where discussions about how to spend federal dollars include a heavy emphasis on housing and community investment. Meanwhile, a coalition known as Housing Michigan has been advocating for a bipartisan package of laws that would give local governments more tools to encourage housing. Marquette County’s regional coordination will position us to take advantage of these new programs and resources. On the development front, developers are considering new housing and construction types that will build in some affordability, and in certain cases are partnering with public and nonprofit institutions on innovative projects. Public-private partnerships are necessary in many cases to offset steep development costs, risks, and other factors that discourage new housing construction. They’re especially valuable on difficult-to-develop sites or to maintain affordability for the workforce. All told, while solutions won’t be immediate, they’re on their way. To share more about the solutions underway, the LSCP is hosting a virtual summit on December 8-9.  Speakers from Marquette County and throughout Michigan will discuss local housing needs, and how communities are working to address these needs locally and regionally. We’ll also hear from state leaders on new legislation and funding for housing, and how communities may leverage local resources for housing projects. And, developers will be sharing their experience in putting projects together, and what’s needed for a project to be successful. A roundtable discussion for all participants at the summit will look towards the next steps in our county’s efforts to address the housing issue. So, bring your housing questions and ideas, check out the detailed agenda online, and register at http://bit.do/housingsolutionssummit. Sarah Lucas, CEO, writes a bi-weekly column for the Mining Journal.
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