Kalamazoo County Council hears new plan to address critical need for more housing

​​A Way Home – Housing Solutions: This story is part of Southwest Michigan’s second wave homelessness solutions series and ways to increase the supply of affordable housing. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, ENNA Foundation, Kalamazoo County Land Bank and LISC.

Kalamazoo County lacks housing at various price points.

High construction costs, low construction rates, increasing demand for a
population growth and housing costs rising faster than wages all contribute to shortage and affordability issues, according to the WE Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Those contributors are detailed in the draft of a housing plan presented to the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners Wednesday evening. (The regular Tuesday night board meeting was pushed back a day due to the statewide primary election.)

“I think that’s a lot of what we knew and a lot of it is what we’re doing,” says Mary Balkema, housing director for Kalamazoo County, referring to efforts to create more housing in the county. But she says the information included in the plan is important to her because “it confirms everything we’re doing,” she says.

This spring, the county began providing grants and loans to projects that created or improved more housing. They are part of the approximately $7.1 million generated in the first year of a new countywide property tax mile. The mile has been approved by Kalamazoo County voters in November 2020 to support the creation of new housing.

Kalamazoo County needs additional housing units of all types and prices, but there is a greater need for homes that are still affordable for those with middle to low incomes.“We came out with our housing development, and then people were like, ‘Why don’t you make data-driven decisions?'” says Balkema. “I said, ‘Because I don’t have the data. We don’t have a housing study. … So when a study confirms what we’re doing, I think that’s a good thing there.

Lee Adams, Director of Community Development for the Upjohn Institute
Lee Adams, director of community development for the Upjohn Institute, says that ideally the plan will inform the county about its use of housing mileage funds “and also we really hope to gain an understanding of the homeless population, a population that really doesn’t necessarily have a lot of understanding of their needs, and that population is quite large.

Among housing issues in Kalamazoo County, the researchers found:

• Rising costs have put most middle and low income people in situations where they are paying more in rent or property costs than is financially viable. This increases the risks of displacement, especially for people on fixed incomes, such as the elderly, people with disabilities or people trying to rebuild after homelessness, the plan says.

The objectives set out in the preliminary plan include ensuring that housing supply is built to meet demand.• There are over 15,000 overstretched renter households in Kalamazoo County. Of these, 13,000 households have an annual gross income of less than $35,000. This income level only allows for monthly housing expenses equal to or less than $875.

• Kalamazoo County needs additional housing units in all types and price levels, but there is a greater need for homes that are still affordable for those with middle to low incomes. “Adding income-eligible units could provide sustainable housing at prices that allow occupants to achieve financial stability and eventually transition to a more secure form of housing,” the plan says.

He suggests the county needs to consider strategies to help alleviate some of the concerns found in the county, and suggests that these strategies “are most effective when community partners come together and implement them as a cohesive unit.”

The 109-page plan includes contributions from real estate agents, developers, nonprofit housing organizations and citizens, as well as two surveys (one of county residents who are housed and the other of non-residents). housed). The larger survey included a mailing to more than 35,000 county residents and received responses from about 3,000 of them.

Kalamazoo County needs additional housing units of all types and prices, but there is a greater need for homes that are still affordable for those with middle to low incomes. The plan was presented to the board by Adams. It was accepted without modification and must be resubmitted to the Board at its next regular meeting for final approval.

The document describes a continuum of housing – housing situations ranging from homelessness to safe housing at market price – in which people move from one situation to another as their needs change. For example, the continuum may include emergency housing when someone needs help and affordable apartment rental when someone loses a spouse. He states that a healthy housing continuum “provides housing for people across a range of incomes or in different living situations,” but finds that Kalamazoo County is experiencing a housing crisis.

It includes salary data related to housing. Of this, Balkema says, “The proportion of black or African American households earning less than $30,000 a year is double that of non-Hispanic white residents. So we can really see by population where the disparities are. And I would probably add that we need to overinvest in housing in those areas.

Some interesting points:

• The county’s population has grown in recent years and is expected to continue growing through 2030. In 2020, the county had a population of 264,322 people, according to the American Community Survey (a product of the US Census Bureau).

• The number of housing units produced since the Great Recession (2008 to 2010) has not kept pace with population growth and has caused housing shortages.

The objectives defined in the preliminary plan include the rehabilitation of the existing housing stock.• Many houses have problems that require repairs. This is exacerbated by the fact that much of the housing stock is over 50 years old.

• Among those who are homeless in Kalamazoo County (169 people provided feedback), 47.5% identify as white, 38% as African American, 11.4% as two or more races, and 3 .2% describe themselves as belonging to another race.

Balkema says those experiencing homelessness are more traditionally BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). While just over 10% of the county’s population is black, nearly 40% of those who responded to a homeless survey were black. The survey was conducted by the Upjohn Institute with assistance from the Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care.

The objectives outlined in the preliminary plan include:

• Increase rental housing options, for example by helping tenants with cash flow problems to reduce the number of evictions.

• Ensure that housing supply is built to meet demand. This can include incentives for the construction of mixed housing to ensure space is available at multiple price points.

• Remove barriers that prevent people from owning and keeping a home, such as coordinating with lending institutions to help low-income homeowners pay their mortgages.

• Rehabilitate the existing building stock. This can include providing grants and low-interest loans to homeowners, regardless of their credit rating, to help them improve their homes.

• Adopt housing as a workforce development strategy. This can include creating workforce training opportunities and construction jobs for minority and women-owned businesses, as well as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.

• Increase and coordinate support services, such as support for rapid relocation programs.

• Advocacy for housing for all. This includes working with neighborhood associations and other community stakeholders to promote the development and preservation of affordable housing.

The plan includes a housing needs assessment, market demand research, countywide housing survey results, and recommendations on goals, objectives and strategies for moving forward. before. It was compiled by the Upjohn Institute and the Southcentral Michigan Planning Council.

Balkema says the county council will need to determine how the information will help it move forward. She expects that to happen before the commissioners make their next funding allocation in December.

“The main findings are that the county needs more housing,” she said. “We desperately need more units. Many households are overstretched. They pay more than 30% of their gross salary in rent or interest charges. Housing prices are rising much faster than salaries. We kind of know. Tenants are in more demand. We need more pathways to homeownership. And housing issues aren’t experienced the same way by all segments of our county.

Adams says, “The purpose of the plan is really to understand the needs in Kalamazoo County. There are a myriad of housing needs. We want to try to catalog them and dialogue with community members about the nature of these needs and try to find solutions for them.


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