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Election 2022: Housing issues top of mind for voters, candidates

 Steve Szasz and Stacy Slater, outside their home in East Bay Township. They're moving after 12 years because they're fed up with increased traffic and noise from nearby short-term rentals.
Max Copeland
/
IPR News
Steve Szasz and Stacy Slater, outside their home in East Bay Township. They're moving after 12 years because they're fed up with increased traffic and noise from nearby short-term rentals. (Photo: Max Copeland/IPR News)

Editor’s note: This week, IPR News is looking at some of the major issues voters will consider when they head to the polls next week, and highlighting races where that issue has come up. Election Day is Nov. 8.


Stacy Slater’s house in the Pine Grove neighborhood of East Bay Township is small — about 900 square feet with a nice yard.

There’s a little table where she and her husband like to eat outside. There’s a patio, a grill, a bird feeder, and of course some flowers. This has been home for about a dozen years.

“Oh my gosh it’s perfect,” she told IPR News. “And now? I just don’t want to be here.”

She blames her change of heart on a surge in short-term rentals — including one across a very narrow street from her house, with new guests arriving for an Up North vacation seemingly every weekend.

“I think one day we had, I don’t know, like 27 people here,” she said.

They say there are party buses, trash in the street, and lots of other noisy traffic.

“And then every once and a while the stretch limo comes through here with the stereo just booming,” Slater’s husband, Steve Szasz, said. “They think it’s cute and it’s not. It’s not.”

So now, they’re moving.

“Moving to a field somewhere where no one is going to put a short-term rental around me,” she said “I’m building a moat. I’m throwing in the towel. They can have it.”

A HOUSING EMERGENCY?

People who study housing in our region say that about a quarter of the short-term rentals in the entire state are in northern Michigan.

And short-term rentals get blamed for a lot of the area’s housing troubles, from removing properties from the market to driving up prices.

“We are seeing more people being displaced because of short-term rentals because this is a popular place to come,” said Yarrow Brown, the executive director of Housing North, a nonprofit that works to reduce barriers to housing. “We’re hoping local governments track year round and short-term rentals to find a good balance.”

There are a number of ideas to address the problem. They include taxing short term rentals as commercial enterprises, or easing taxation on long-term rentals.

Other ideas include offering tax breaks to build more housing, and easing property taxes for homeowners in certain places. And there’s a bill to limit short-term rentals statewide.

Brown says dealing with the housing crisis is crucial to northern Michigan.

“I would say that we’ve gone from a crisis situation to somewhat of an emergency,” she said. “We want to retain talent and attraction. Our community cannot continue to thrive if more and more people are moving away … (especially) people that provide a lot of our essential services.”

Those workers in particular are necessary for a community to function, but often earn lower wages, making it harder to keep up with the cost of living here.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

That little tan brick home owned by Stacy Slater and Steve Szasz is squarely in the 103rd state House district.

These issues are on the minds of the two people running for that seat this year — Democrat Betsy Coffia and incumbent Republican Jack O’Malley.

Side-by-side portraits of Republican state Rep. Jack O'Malley and Democratic challenger Betsy Coffia.
Republican state Rep. Jack O'Malley and Democratic challenger and Grand Traverse County Commissioner Betsy Coffia

They both appeared at the Cherry Pie Debates in early October and relayed stories they heard about the severity of housing issues here.

Coffia mentioned a business owner who told her that two employees were sleeping in their cars. O’Malley talked about a firefighter he met who was being forced out of his community because of rising costs.

“I’d like to see where if you have a long-term house that you’re going to rent for a year that maybe we take away the homestead tax … to make sure that that house stays long-term,” O’Malley said.

Coffia also mentioned offering tax credits to long term rentals — and changing programs built for other parts of the state. She mentioned a program from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority that offers grants to developers who build housing, but gives extra points for housing in communities with more than 50,000 people.

“That automatically takes all of northern Michigan off the table, so we need to change that criteria,” Coffia said. “That’s a pretty straightforward fix, actually.”

Both agree that solving the problem will take a lot of different approaches.

And it is abundantly clear that the housing crisis will be top of mind for whichever candidate voters in the 103rd District decide to send to Lansing.