A look at employer housing projects, local housing advocacy and state funding for affordable housing

Employers invest in housing for their workers; an initiative advocating “abundant housing” in Traverse City; a new state program that will help fund affordable housing projects. These are some of the latest developments in Traverse City’s ongoing conversation about housing availability and affordability. Here’s a look at those elements and how they could help address one of the region’s biggest challenges.

Employee housing
Last week, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa announced that it was opening a new employee housing building. According to general manager Matthew Bryant, the new units are aimed at the international workforce. For years, the resort has relied on the H-2B and J-1 visa programs to meet some of its summer staffing needs. The new two-storey structure will provide accommodation for these workers.

“This employee housing has multiple units with bedrooms, bathrooms, common areas and kitchenettes, and can accommodate up to 40 people,” says Bryant. The ticker. “Our plan is to continue this process and next year do another building with more rooms for international housing, just because of the housing shortage and because of the labor shortage in Traverse City. So we will continue to develop our H-2B process and our J-1 process, and host [those workers] here locally, because it’s the only way forward for the next 5-6 years until something changes significantly in the availability of affordable housing in this area.

The project adds the Grand Traverse Resort to a growing list of local employers taking aggressive steps to house their employees. In April, Short’s Brewing Company purchased the 26-unit Bellaire Inn in hopes of leveraging the space to attract up to 20 additional employees to Short’s Bellaire Pub. The Interlochen Arts Center (ICA), meanwhile, is exploring several options to expand its staff accommodation capacity.

According to Pat Kessel, vice president of finance and operations at the CIA, the institution has been involved in employee housing for several years, in particular to meet the massive staffing needs created by the summer camp. The ICA has 475 employees year-round, but adds 1,100 in the summer.

Accommodating these seasonal staff requires a combination of strategies, from converting student residences into staff accommodation – campers themselves stay in cabins, leaving dorms available for other uses – to purchasing homes throughout the Interlochen region and their assignment to personnel. Currently, ICA has 44 residence halls near its campus. This summer, the school added “10 new fully furnished mobile homes to our campus to help ease the housing burden for our employees.”

Part of the challenge, Kessel says, is that the number of staff housing requests received by the ICA has “skyrocketed” in recent years because employees cannot find affordable housing nearby.

“We have existing employees who say they can’t afford to live in this area and will have to relocate,” Kessel says. “We also have new employees who report that they cannot find accommodation. We know we have missed onboarding quality candidates due to their inability to find accommodation in our area, and we have others working remotely as they continue their search.

The good news, Kessel notes, is that the ICA has a good amount of vacant land that could potentially be used for affordable housing – both on campus and throughout the Interlochen area. This year, the institution launched a discovery process and hired a consultant “to identify and research different options that might be available to us. [for building affordable housing].” Despite the challenges of “zoning, cost, density, funding, potential partnerships, and private and government funding,” Kessel is confident that something will soon materialize.

“If we could build [housing units] tomorrow we would,” says Kessel. “But we hope to start as soon as possible and we would like to build as many houses as possible, depending on the funds available.”

Live CT
Launched in January as part of Ty Schmidt’s Good Works Lab, Live TC is a “citizen initiative” that exists to “advocate for abundant housing and an inclusive, equitable, sustainable and prosperous Traverse City.”

Live TC’s most visible advocacy so far has been as part of the effort to repeal Proposition 3, the city’s law that requires a public vote on all new buildings 60 feet tall or taller. . That effort hit a snag earlier this week when the city clerk rejected the petitions, but Schmidt says he and his team are already considering “next steps” to get the issue on the ballot.

In the meantime, Live TC is looking for other ways to advocate for abundant housing, whether it’s showing support for the development of Lot O in downtown TC; support local zoning reform; educate residents about barriers to housing construction; draw attention to city-owned land “that is ripe for homes”; or encourage local employers to invest in their own housing projects.

“To be honest, we haven’t done anything yet,” laughs Schmidt. “But we are working on it, because we know there is a sense of urgency here. We compete to hire talented people to work in Traverse City, but we tell them they have to live x miles away. It’s not great for this town. When you start denying or delaying [housing options] as we have done, people are not just waiting; they leave. And we can’t afford to have quality people leaving.

The missing intermediate housing program
Next month, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) will launch the Missing Middle Housing Program, a statewide “housing production program” that will allocate $50 million of money from the American Rescue Plan Act to affordable housing projects across the state, with at least $1 million coming to the 10-county region of northwestern Lower Michigan. An additional $13 million is up for grabs and has yet to be split among the state’s 10 regions.

According to draft program documents, the Missing Middle program will hold two funding rounds for the disbursement of funds. The first round “will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis”, while the second will include additional considerations to ensure “equitable geographical distribution [of funding] throughout the state. Only developers or 501c3 nonprofits are eligible for funding, projects must be housing-related, and housing must be “targeted to household incomes between 185% and 300% of federal poverty guidelines.” Projects that receive funding must also remain affordable, in accordance with program requirements, for at least 10 years.

Jon Stimson, director of the HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing Corporation in Traverse City, said his organization would seek some of the Missing Middle money to build affordable housing in northern Michigan. Currently, he is urging local cities, towns and townships to come to HomeStretch “with projects in mind” that he could include in his application to MSHDA.

“There has never been an allocation of money like this available to small-scale, nonprofit developers,” Stimson says of the Missing Middle program. “And it’s happening now. This money will come to us for projects that we present. So we see that as a game changer.”