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Task force seeks to bring affordable housing to Northern Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes, a popular tourist spot in Northern Michigan
Flickr user Rodney Campbell

Northern Michigan’s tourism industry is huge. Likely this summer alone you or someone you know has headed up that way at least once.

At first blush, that sounds as though all that tourism is nothing but great for the economy. It creates a lot of jobs at businesses like restaurants and hotels.

But as more visitors buy beachfront properties and real estate prices rise, it’s proving really hard for folks working in the tourism and service industries to find affordable housing.

Leelanau County Commissioner Ty Wessel is trying to do something about that.

Wessel is part of a newly formed affordable housing task force.

“County government has only a limited role, but we think it’s a leadership role,” he says. “Our real goal as a housing task force will be to get the right people at the table … and not only educating our community about our needs but working on ways to attract developers to provide more affordable housing.”

Wessel says as it stands now, many workers in Leelanau County have to spend up to 60% of their take-home pay on housing and transportation, “and that’s just not affordable.”

Businesses are having a hard time finding and holding on to workers, but the effects of the housing situation reach further than that, according to Wessel.

Because it’s so hard for people living and working in the county to buy homes there, he tells us that school enrollment is down 16% in the last decade, and that many families are struggling to afford childcare and are being forced to commute unreasonable distances to work.

“It is an issue that our schools and our employers and our families and our churches and our villages and townships are all concerned about,” he says.

Wessel tells us the task force plans to work on building partnerships with businesses and nonprofit organizations, review the area’s zoning laws, and work with the Michigan Housing Commission, all to figure out how to create greater incentives for companies to bring more affordable housing to the area.

There is some concern surrounding the cost of the venture, but the task force is determined to do right by their struggling workers. Wessel says they’re confident that, “if we do it right, we can keep the cost down without compromising on quality, and we think there is a market for that.”

- Ryan Grimes, Stateside

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