House Manistee seeks attainable housing for all

MANISTEE COUNTY — When it comes to housing, the issues are present and the solutions discernible.

Closing the gap between the two is the mission of the Alliance for Economic Success’s “House Manistee” program.

This week an inaugural meeting for the initiative was held, bringing public officials, nonprofit agencies, developers and interested residents to the table for a collective approach toward progress.

“All of the experts will tell you: housing is one of the biggest barriers to economic development we’re facing across the country, and especially in Northern Michigan,” said House Manistee coordinator Tamara Buswinka, of the Alliance for Economic Success (AES). “So, addressing housing is one of the biggest priorities we need to tackle, and this initiative is meant to make meaningful and measurable progress toward that.

“To make that measurable, meaningful progress, it’s going to take a collaborative partnership with people who are already working in the field,” she added. “The answers and solutions are out there, and being worked on, so now we need to bring all of our talents and all of our programming together to steer the ship in the same direction.”

Wednesday’s meeting featured a trio of speakers, including Buswinka, who presented the overall vision of House Manistee. Sarah Lucas, director of Community Development at Networks Northwest, and Bob Collins, executive director of Home Builders Association of West Michigan, also spoke.

Lucas addressed the regional state of housing in Northern Michigan, providing data to support the need for improved, affordable housing. Collins discussed the challenges developers face when aiming to build housing in small communities.

“They were really able to frame the problems, coming from two different perspectives,” Buswinka said.

Perhaps the most important item on the agenda was forming four work groups under the House Manistee umbrella, each being charged to focus on specific issues/solutions related to the area’s housing landscape.

These work groups, and their accompanying goals, are:

• Education, Data and Outreach: Understand and communicate where the critical need is in order to strategically target resources and achieve public consensus;

• Planning and Policy: Coordinate and create planning and zoning tools to encourage greater housing choices and position communities to be in a state of readiness;

• Funding and Incentives: Encourage private, public and nonprofits to utilize incentives and find alternative funding sources; and

• Programming: Work to coordinate and educate about existing programming, to help people of all income levels stay in their homes and to keep properties well kept and habitable.

Most of the 50-plus attendees at Wednesday’s meeting signed up to be on one of the four work groups, which are expected to meet monthly for the foreseeable future. Buswinka said House Manistee will continue to welcome new volunteer members.

“If you have an interest or passion for it, or if you’re already working in an organization that deals with housing, we want you to join us,” she said.

Those interested should contact the Alliance for Economic Success at (231) 723-4325 or info@allianceforeconomicsuccess.com. More information about the program can be found at allianceforeconomicsuccess.com/housemanistee.

In her presentation, Buswinka pointed out that household size is decreasing in Manistee County while the demand for one- to two-bedroom units is increasing. The lack of availability discourages both potential and current residents.

In 2014, the median annual income for a homeowner in Manistee County was nearly $46,000 while the median home value was $124,000. The median rental income was $22,000, enough to afford an estimated $557 monthly rent payment. The median rent payment, however, was $627.

It’s estimated that at least a $13.19 hourly wage is required to afford an average rental in Northwest Michigan.

In 2018, the House Manistee program aims to make significant steps toward outreach and education on housing issues; identify specific goals and strategies for each work group; and identify how to measure the progress of each.

By 2019, its goals include having housing projects underway in Manistee County; implementing housing-friendly planning and zoning policies; and to see significant use and growth of current housing programs.

Its ultimate goal, Buswinka said, is to have Manistee County communities ready to work with developers, and have a vast selection of affordable housing options, attainable for all.

“The hope, really, at the end of this is to have shovels in the ground, projects underway and programming that is fully taken advantage of,” she said, “because we’re not just talking about new housing, we’re talking about rehabbing existing housing too.

“And this is for the whole gamut of the community too, from homeless to single families, kids to seniors and middle income folks.”

Buswinka said starting the conversation is the first step toward change.

“One of the most important things is that we, as a community, understand what the issues are, what some of the solutions could be, and what we need to do to really make meaningful progress,” she said. “When a developer wants to start a housing project in Manistee, we all need to be on the same page and have that state of readiness to work with that developer to make progress happen.

“Every time we lose a housing developer, they are taking that message back to their colleagues and Manistee County gets a reputation. We want to have a reputation of being open for business.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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