Construction that started last year on a housing project in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood. Construction that started last year on a housing project in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood. MIBIZ FILE PHOTO

State House lawmakers pass housing bill package backed by biz, construction groups

BY Thursday, November 10, 2022 07:29pm

LANSING — The Michigan House of Representatives passed four bills today aimed at creating more workforce housing projects across the state and addressing bottlenecks in housing development.

The bill package — which cleared the Senate last year and goes back for a concurrence vote — calls for expanding Neighborhood Enterprise Zones, property tax abatements for housing, and tax benefits for rural workforce housing. The legislation is sponsored by state Sen. Winnie Brinks (Senate Bill 362), state Sen. Ken Horn (S.B. 422), state Sen. Jeremy Moss (S.B. 364), and state Sen. Wayne Schmidt (S.B. 432).

“With interest rate increases adding further burdens on home builders already under pressure from supply chain and workforce challenges, these tools become even more necessary today than we started,” Dawn Crandall, executive vice president for the Home Builders Association of Michigan, said in a statement. “This bipartisan, collaborative effort shows Michigan is ready to rise to meet our housing challenges.”

Housing Michigan, a coalition of business and housing advocacy groups working to open more pathways for developing projects, backed the legislation that was introduced last year. The group’s executive committee is made up of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Housing North, the Home Builders Association of Michigan and the Michigan Municipal League.

“West Michigan employers have said that housing supply and affordability is a critical workforce, talent and quality of life issue,” Joshua Lunger, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber, said in a statement. “Supporting a healthy housing market and the supply of attainable housing will have a positive impact on communities, residents and job providers across Michigan.”

The bills go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote before advancing to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for final approval. However, the House votes today — which cleared by wide margins with more than 70 ‘yes’ votes for each bill — represent a significant milestone for the package that cleared the Senate in June of 2021

The incentives and tools in the bills are designed to be customizable for local governments depending on residents’ housing needs, and focus on infill housing around existing infrastructure. 

“This is a historic day for working Michigan residents and their families faced with the difficult challenge of finding safe and secure housing they can afford,” Yarrow Brown, executive director of Housing North, said in a statement. “This legislative package gives our communities, housing developers and project financiers the tools they need to significantly expand our area’s housing stock to grow our workforce and strengthen our regional economy.”

Brown addressed state lawmakers this week on the need for the legislation, specifically in rural areas of Northwest Michigan that Housing North serves. She also testified in favor of the bills when they were in House committees this spring.

Research from Housing North shows that more than 15,600 housing units are needed in the organization’s 10-county region to meet existing demand. Available housing stock has remained stagnant in the area while the number of seasonal housing units and short-term rental conversions continues to grow, putting additional pressure on the need for more housing units.

“We have seen a lot of investment in Grand Rapids — which has created great opportunities for some. But it has also driven up the price of rent, and that has left a lot of people behind,” said Brinks, who today was named the first female Senate Majority Leader as Democrats take control of the Legislature on Jan. 1. “The ones with the fewest resources are bearing the greatest burden when it comes to the housing shortage. This legislation will open up more doors for people of every income to find a stable place to call home.”

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