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Study calls for thousands of new affordable housing units in Northwest Michigan

Lisa Golden
A recent study shows that many renters in northwest Michigan can't afford rent higher than $800 a month.

Northwest Michigan needs to build roughly 10,000 new affordable rental units and 4,600 new ownership houses, according to a new study commissioned by Networks Northwest and Housing North. 

The construction needs to be completed by 2020 in order to keep up with the demands of the region, the study states. LandUse USA is a real estate analysis firm that evaluated 10 counties in the region.

The analysis also shows that those in need of rentals can’t afford to pay more than $800 a month in rent, and those who want to buy an affordable house can’t pay more than $200,000.

Sarah Lucas is the executive director of Housing North, a non-profit designed to create housing solutions in the region.

“If all the stars aligned and we were able to build 10,000 units next year, the demand in 2021 would be dramatically different,” she said

It will likely take 5 years to build that much housing, she says. 

“The housing units and prices largely aren’t available in our communities now,” Lucas said. “This demand represents the homes that people like teachers, health care workers, emergency responders, restaurant and hospitality workers and construction workers are looking for and not finding.” 

She also highlighted that it’s difficult for contractors to build homes and rentals at low prices and make a profit. 

Possible solutions include changing zoning in municipalities to allow for more duplexes and rehabilitating existing homes and subdividing large houses into multiple units.

“We have examples of communities that are looking to that approach as a partial solution,” Networks Northwest Community Development Manager Kathy Egan said in a statement. “For instance, the city of Charlevoix just passed some zoning changes that give property owners more flexibility, allowing them to convert single family homes to two-family homes and use rooms in their houses for long-term rentals.”