MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – An Ad-Hoc Housing Committee for the City of Marquette spent 18 months meeting, gathering information, and putting together a report about the availability of affordable housing.
City Commissioner Evan Bonsall said he worked with Mayor Jenna Smith and gained the support of the Marquette City Commission to create the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee. The goal was to study housing affordability issues in the city of Marquette. The study culminated in a final report which included a set of policy recommendations to the City Commission of what it could do on its own and in partnership with others to make housing more affordable.
“We knew that from actual hard data, but also from anecdotal evidence that we’re hearing from many members of the community that housing prices were rising very rapidly in Marquette. That housing affordability was becoming a serious challenge. People were leaving our community or not coming here in the first place because they couldn’t find an affordable place to live. Whether they were looking to buy a home or were looking to rent.”
In the video below, Commissioner Bonsall explains how income levels were used to conduct the study.
When asked about key takeaways from the study, Bonsall said the central underlying problem is that there has been very little new construction of mid-range or low-income housing in the City of Marquette.
“There’s not a whole lot of housing being built that’s affordable for families, young professionals, students, seniors on a limited income. That’s the central problem. We just need more housing units that fall into that middle-income price range or into that lower-income price range.”
Bonsall said once the central problem was identified, much of the rest of the report is spent discussing how to get more affordable housing units in the City of Marquette. He outlined three central areas that the policy recommendations fall into. You can hear his response in the video below.
Bonsall said there is currently a 6-12 month waiting list for public housing in Marquette. He said the wait for Housing Choice vouchers can be years. Bonsall said one key to success is letting developers know if they build, the properties will be bought or filled.
“If you build low-income housing right now, like a low-income tax credit apartment building or complex in Marquette right now, it will fill up.”
Bonsall said the city can also play a role in attracting developers.
“For example, we could look at certain city-owned properties in the City of Marquette which would be a good fit for mixed-income or middle-income or low-income housing development. We could say we want to build affordable housing on this property. The city doesn’t have the capacity financially or otherwise to do that on our own. So we’re going to create a request for proposals (RFP). We’re going to put that RFP out there and have developers look at it, and come forward with that request for proposals.”
In addition to the policy recommendations made in the report, Bonsall suggested one option is when an interested developer does come in and want to build at market rate, the city can have a conversation with them about opportunities as far as a Brownfield Plan or Tax Increment Financing, or selling city land. Doing what they can to make building affordable housing more attractive.
“We’ve been working on this report for 18 months. We can’t afford to wait another 18 months before we do anything.”
Bonsall said the next step is educating the public on the report and getting their feedback. The full report is about 200 pages long. Bonsall said the most important information can be found in the first 23 pages. The rest is supporting data. His suggestion is for everyone to read the final report. Once you’ve read it, contact the City Commission. Send emails to Bonsall and other members. Come to meetings and make public comments either via email or in-person.
“I think we need to remember that this isn’t just a dollars and cents thing. It’s not just an economic problem. It’s also a moral problem. What kind of community do we want to be in Marquette? Do we want to be a community where you have to earn a certain amount of money to be able to live here? Do we want to be a community that’s exclusive in that way? Marquette’s never been exclusive in that way.”
Bonsall said the City Commission is planning a public work session on the final report in the coming weeks.