2016-06-25 / Top News

New Nonprofit Will Address Housing Needs on Island

By Stephanie Fortino

A new nonprofit company will soon be established, tasked with addressing the need for year-around, affordable rental housing on Mackinac Island. This year, the city’s new Housing Committee investigated the issue and a nonprofit is seen as the best way to oversee projects, apply for grants, and collect donations.

Finding a workable solution to the Island’s year-around housing need is essential for the longevity of the Mackinac Island community, Mayor Margaret Doud said. She often warns of the Island becoming an entirely seasonal “caretaker community” that only thrives during the summer. Having a strong year-around community is necessary for the survival of the school, medical center, and emergency services.

The housing committee met with Rebecca Bolen and Eric Wedesky from EUP Regional Planning and Mackinac County Planning Commission Chair Dean Reid Tuesday, June 21. The meeting was called primarily to discuss the results of the recent housing market analysis conducted by Sharon Woods of LandUse|USA.

The committee discussed some shortcomings of the target market analysis, mainly that the 18 new units the housing market could support are targeted to upscale lifestyles. There is a great need for lower-priced housing on the Island, committee member Neal Liddicoat pointed out, not just upscale vacation homes. Jack Dehring, who serves on the committee, added that property values have greatly increased on the Island, making housing unaffordable to most people.

Another drawback of the study, according to Mr. Reid, is that it doesn’t adequately capture the needs of the large seasonal worker population on Mackinac Island. Because the market analysis relies on census data, it only captures people who declare Mackinac Island as their residence, not people who live here only during the summer. The housing crunch on the Island is largely owing to the increasing need for employee housing, as business owners purchase homes for their employees, taking them off the market for families.

But the study will be helpful to the Island, Ms. Bolen said, especially as groups start seeking developers for the upcoming projects. If the city decides to seek bids for a new townhouse development, for example, the market analysis is already completed and available for a developer to use. Although the committee is looking to establish housing for different segments of Mackinac Island, the study could be helpful when applying for grants from organizations like the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Property available for development is limited, as more than 80% of the Island is owned by the state. Private land development is restricted by zoning and a municipal sewage treatment plant that is near capacity.

Other nearby communities have been able to adapt vacant buildings to fill housing needs, Mr. Reid said. Some old, abandoned small bed and breakfasts have been turned into apartments, however, such a solution does not exist on Mackinac Island, where new hotels are being built nearly every year.

The city will need to determine how many new yeararound rental units should be built, said committee member Anneke Myers. She and member Alan Sehoyan said a good rough estimate would be 20 new units, which Mr. Sehoyan was confident would be filled in two to three years.

Mrs. Myers also noted that, recently, at least two projects initially proposed as yeararound housing became highend condominiums. There is money to be made in upscale summer homes on the Island, and Ms. Bolen noted it would be difficult for a developer to resist meeting that demand.

To provide the type of housing needed on the Island, committee member Jason St. Onge suggested the city acquire property, build housing, and rent the units to the public. The units would always be available to year-around residents and the building couldn’t be turned into a condominium.

Another advantage of building rental housing options is providing units unrelated to people’s employment. For example, if someone who lives in employee housing decides to quit their job or loses their job, they are often evicted, as well. These alternative housing options can provide Island residents stability independent of their employers.

Mackinac Island Community Foundation Executive Director Robin Dorman noted many Island citizens donated funds to the Mackinac Island Housing Corporation that established the Edgewood community. Parcels are still available in Edgewood, which is designed for residents who want to own homes.

Ms. Bolen and Mr. Wedesky agreed to continue helping the committee in looking for state contacts, and EUP Regional Planning also provide grantwriting services, too, that the new nonprofit organization can use.

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