IF YOU CAN FIND a place to live around here, you probably can’t afford it.
That’s the housing issue, in the simplest of terms, for a significant segment of our area population. Available units are scant, and those that are, often require an income greater than that of much of our workforce.
With all the building going on, particularly big apartment and condo complexes, and a somewhat static population, you’d think housing wouldn’t be an issue. However, according to architect Barry Polzin, who’s well-informed on the topic, “A lot of the housing stock in Marquette is from the big growth period that occurred in Marquette in the 60s and 70s, and is in need of serious upgrades. So, much of the problem is a shortage of quality housing.”
Obviously, the shortage doesn’t affect everybody. In fact, chances are, you’re living in a place you can afford right now. But not everyone is. And that’s the problem.
There are a number of different non-profit and governmental agencies dealing with the homeless issue, but not as many assigned to address the affordable housing shortage as their sole purpose. Until now.
Back in November, The Marquette County Land Bank Authority (MCLBA), in collaboration with InvestUP and the Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP), announced the appointment of Antonio Adan as the new Housing Specialist. The position is supported by funds from the Michigan Office of Rural Development, the Community Foundation of Marquette County, the MCLBA, InvestUP and the LSCP.
The partners consider this to be integral to the development of housing initiatives across Marquette County and the surrounding region.
That’s a noble objective, but what can actually be done to have a positive influence on our affordable housing shortage? Off the top of my head, I’d say… not much. But that might be why they didn’t ask me to be the new Housing Specialist. Fortunately, Antonio Adan understands the complexities much better than I do, and he has already identified a number of strategies he plans to employ to facilitate successful outcomes.
Up to the Task
“As Housing Specialist, I will convene public and private partners, identify sites, determine infrastructure needs and funding sources, and ultimately create shovel ready projects that will allow for the creation of additional housing units,” Adan explains. “I’ll also work with all local units of government, public and private developers and partner agencies to apply for local and state funding, seek financing opportunities, and explore the implementation of Brownfield plans to support attainable housing development.”
Sounds like a plan… certainly better than sitting back and wishing something good would happen. For those who might think this is just another layer of bureaucratic make-work to look like something’s being done, I’d suggest you give Adan a little time to make good on his intentions.
And I wouldn’t scoff at the money being put up by the partner agencies to make this happen. This isn’t the NFL, where they pay coaches to stay home. I’m sure there will be expectations for results, not the least of which will come from Adan himself.
The new hire believes he’ll be able to “directly impact housing shortages by facilitating projects that will create additional multi-unit housing.” There you go. The best way to create more “affordable” workforce housing is to create more housing, period. Supply and demand will always impact prices, so if more housing is available, it’s logical to believe prices would moderate. And it looks like that’s where Adan is going to focus his efforts.
Additionally, as our new Housing Specialist, he’ll be in position to foster and encourage development projects that may otherwise have been left on the table. “Rural communities like ours are often not able to take advantage of state programs because they don’t have shovel ready projects in place when funding is announced.”
Understandably, developers will always want to realize a profit from their investments, and investments in building construction these days are considerable. But we have to start somewhere.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the process, the Lake Superior Community Partnership is sponsoring a Breakfast and Business quarterly meeting on Friday, January 26that 7:30am at the Ramada of Marquette, where the topic will be Housing in Marquette County. If you plan on attending, you’ll need to RSVP at Housing Breakfast.
The League of Women Voters
I’ve attended quite a few meetings over the past several years, and in that time, a few of the faces in the crowd have become familiar. Some are the usual area activists while others are local media representatives. But, in addition to those, there are always a couple people, with seemingly no particular ax to grind, who are regular attendees.
It turns out, they’re from the League of Women Voters, part of the organization’s Observer Corps.
Funny thing, if you knew nothing about the League of Women Voters except their name, you’d probably picture a half dozen retired ladies meeting monthly over coffee and croissants… in the church basement, exchanging rumors and recipes.
That’s not true today, and never has been, over the 100 plus years the LWV has been around. Beginning in the mid-19th century, woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and even practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change in the Constitution – guaranteeing women the right to vote. And they’ve been working to guarantee voting rights ever since.
Though the right to vote for half the adult population was the motivating force behind their creation, they’ve expanded their role into many areas of government oversight, including the fostering of informed civic participation. Hence… the Observation Corps.
The Watchers are Watching
David Allen, LWV of Marquette County Observer Corps Coordinator, says there are two main purposes of the Observer Corps. One is to summarize and report on important issues, deliberations, and decisions made by governmental bodies. Makes sense.
The other purpose? According to Allen, “Observers put governmental bodies on notice that we care about their process and decisions, and expect them to function fairly, openly, and efficiently.”
Ah… so that’s what they’re doing at those meetings. And I can’t tell you how valuable that is. Their presence puts all of our elected and appointed officials on notice… someone’s watching.
That doesn’t mean our default position should be to distrust the people at the front of the room. In most cases, we put them there! It’s just that objective oversight is never a bad idea.
Allen sums it up, “Observing governmental entities is surprisingly interesting, and very meaningful. There’s no better way to learn how one’s local government actually operates, and how ordinary citizens can make a difference in good governance. The Observer Corps also serves a vital public service to bring sunshine to government — a role that once belonged more completely to local journalists before the loss of so many local papers and reporters across the U.S.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the LWV, visit their website at Mqt County LVW. And in case you were wondering, men are welcome to become members of the League of Women Voters.