THE DAYS OF THE three-figure mortgage payment are long gone. Now, in order to pay the loan and all the ancillary costs of home ownership, it generally takes two steady, healthy incomes.
When the top end of housing prices goes up, particularly new houses, the rest tend to follow. What were once high six-figure pads are now pushing over a million, and what you may have been able to buy for 100 thousand ten years ago will set you back over 200 today.
Fine. If you want to buy a house and you’ve got the bread… go for it. After all, it’s not just a place to live, it’s also an investment, one which you hope will pay off down the road. But… with around 50% of our homes in Marquette being rental properties, the cost of housing isn’t affecting just buyers. Renters are being forced to downsize, or take in additional roommates, and they’re still sweating out the end of the month.
None of this is new information. Like a lot of other popular destinations, Marquette has a housing problem. If you can find a place… can you afford it? And that applies to both buyers and renters.
When we look closely at the issue we find a lot of different people, agencies, and organizations trying to address the problem. And maybe that’s a problem in and of itself. Whenever proactive efforts are spread out, the potential sum of the parts gets spread too thin and less gets done.
With that in mind, it would seem that the Marquette Housing Commission is the local agency best positioned to address the challenge. Their stated mission is “to provide and administer affordable housing programs for the citizens of Marquette.” With municipal empowerment and the blessings of a number of state agencies, the Housing Commission would appear to be the logical choice to lead the effort in finding solutions to the housing issue. After all, they seem to be doing a pretty good job running their current facilities.
The two properties currently under their care have been through times when they weren’t viewed all that favorably by the general public, whether those impressions were well-founded or not. But the fact is that both Lake Superior Village and the Pine Ridge Marquette apartments provide a needed service to the community, and they do it quite efficiently. And not to be ignored… both facilities have gone through recent improvements and appear to be well maintained, inside and out. Simply put, they don’t detract at all from their home neighborhoods. Even the folks on the tony east side would have to admit that Pine Ridge invalidates most NIMBY concerns.
Like many of our city’s advisory boards, the Marquette Housing Commission has gone through some turnover, recently welcoming a couple new members. But commission staff, headed by Executive Director Sharon Maki, appears to be capable and well-prepared to take on the housing challenge.
At a recent commission meeting, the board began the process of Strategic Planning… the identification of what the group hopes to accomplish in the coming years. With stability in their operations and few vacancies at their current facilities, the commissioners instead focused on what more the board can do.
One of the goals of the strategic planning session was to identify opportunities available to address the housing issue. A couple tangible items made the list, including the purchase of the vacant lot next to the new Beacon House, and the possibility of doing something with the Jacobetti Home for Veterans, once it’s vacated.
It may not sound like much, but when you look at the city and the few properties that are actually available, any space that can be put to use is a step in the right direction. And even though it’s probably a long shot, the Jacobetti building could house quite a few folks in need.
Maki says the Housing Commission would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the Veridea Group as they plan the development of the former hospital property. “I would love to work with Veridea on the hospital project. I believe MHC could manage their rental properties and could possibly offer project based vouchers.” The Housing Commission’s voucher program is one way they’re able to assist residents in finding housing, and making it affordable. More information about the voucher program and other work of the Housing Commission can be found at mqthc.org.
The recently dissolved Ad Hoc Housing Committee created an in-depth report that’s a great document to serve as a guide for how to proceed. The committee, chaired by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall, reviewed a ton of data, both national and local, and outlined the types of things that can, and should be done here in Marquette.
Bonsall is at the forefront of the effort to improve the housing options for all residents. “There are a lot of people and organizations concerned about housing affordability in Marquette, and I think there is a growing recognition that a lack of affordable housing is one of the greatest long-term problems facing Marquette residents and our local economy.”
The city itself can only do so much. According to Bonsall, “In its Final Report, the Ad Hoc Housing Committee recognized that the City government can’t solve Marquette’s housing problems on its own, but they did essentially say to the City Commission, “Control what you can control.” Broadly speaking, there are three things the City can control: 1) Zoning, 2) City-owned property, and 3) Incentives for affordable housing development.”
That leaves the rest up to agencies like the Marquette Housing Commission. Bonsall says, “Organizations like the MHC can play a leading role – local economic development groups like InvestUP, the DDA, and the LSCP, non-profit housing developers like Habitat for Humanity, and for-profit affordable housing developers should all be included in that conversation as well.”
Adhering to their mission, the Housing Commission is taking steps to get things going in the right direction. According to Director Maki, “We’re trying to determine how we can leverage national, state, and local funds and resources to build or renovate housing for low income individuals and families in the area.”
Of course, it’s all easier said than done. It’s going to take a concerted effort, led by groups like the Housing Commission, to make measurable progress. Other than the commission’s current President, Jorma Lankinen, the committee seems up to the challenge, assuming the position of “let’s do what we can” and keep moving forward.
When asked for input during the commission’s planning session, Lankinen told the group they were just “spinning their wheels” and suggested that there’s nothing they can do. He may be right, but it’d be nice to know that the people charged with working on the problem actually believe they can make a difference.
Thankfully, people like Lankinen are in the minority. Marquette is becoming known as a hotbed for the entrepreneurial class, people who see possibilities and look past hurdles. Hopefully we can follow that example, and, with the power of collaboration, do something… about housing.