Whitmer, lawmakers discuss rural development, housing crisis at Northern Michigan Policy Conference ⋆

Housing and rural prosperity were top priorities at the Northern Michigan Policy Conference where state leaders, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and several members of the Legislature braved snowy conditions to speak.

The event in Traverse City presented by the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance gathered lawmakers, business leaders and advocates to discuss the issues facing the region and actions taken to address them in 2023. 

Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, lawmakers said, are experiencing a housing crisis that started earlier and will likely last longer than the one faced by the rest of the state. Rural areas face a lack of affordable housing made worse by post-pandemic hikes in home prices and mortgage rates. 

Whitmer touted her accomplishments last year alongside the Legislature’s Democratic majority, including investments made in the state budget into housing development throughout northern Michigan. 

“Last year we made record bipartisan investments to build thousands of affordable housing units across the region, refreshing main streets and turning blighted properties into something new,” Whitmer said. “This is critical.” 

Local leaders, however, said that the situation requires even more support from the state. 

State Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) said that it’s time for legislators to dedicate more attention to improving access to housing. 

“We need to really do some soul-searching about how serious we are about solving this problem,” Damoose said. “We’re saying it’s our top priority, but we have to make it our top priority.”

Amy Hovey, CEO and executive director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), said that gains in funding and engagement during 2023 have allowed for historic investments to address the housing crisis. 

“For the first time in history, the Housing Community Development Fund, which has been in existence for a couple of decades, received a sustainable funding source of $50 million a year, something we can rely on in creating programs to help address the housing crisis in Michigan,” Hovey said. 

State Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) welcomes attendees to her district alongside members of the northern Michigan caucus at the Northern Michigan Policy Conference on Jan. 19, 2024 | Lily Guiney

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers the keynote speech at the Northern Michigan Policy Conference on Jan. 19, 2024 | Lily Guiney

Former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer addresses fellow Senate candidate Michael Hoover during the candidate panel at the Northern Michigan Policy Conference on Jan. 19, 2024 | Lily Guiney

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers the keynote speech at the Northern Michigan Policy Conference on Jan. 19, 2024 | Lily Guiney

 

State Reps. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) and Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) agreed that improving outcomes in housing and rural development can advance the goal of drawing more young professionals to Michigan and growing the state’s population. 

“People have to be able to afford to live here,” Coffia said. 

“It’s the assisted living, the starter homes, the homes you downsize to when you’re older, so then your house can be freed up for the next family,” Hill said. “These are the kind of tangible outcomes that we want to see from the policies we’re moving forward.”

In discussions about rural prosperity, Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City) said that it’s become difficult to implement successful policies in the region due to an uneven distribution of state funds that disproportionately impacts rural communities. 

“We should never see northern Michigan get less than 40%t of a budget, ever,” Roth said. “Am I a little bit salty? Yes, but areas in northern Michigan did not get anything in their funding.” 

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said that the new year will see more investments in the region, building upon what his caucus was able to pass in 2023.

“When we look at 2024, I think we’re going to see a lot of opportunities for us,” Tate said. “Northern Michigan is a priority, and at the end of the day, we know that the work that’s being done up here is going to be a part of this not only economic driver that the state has been seeing, but also we look at quality of lives.” 

Ahead of Whitmer’s State of the State address on Wednesday and the kickoff of the legislative budget process to follow, speakers made it clear that northern Michigan will remain a key consideration for future policymaking.

“We’re building and investing in northern Michigan’s bustling small businesses, strong families and ambitious entrepreneurs,” Whitmer said. We’re helping people plant roots that can stand the test of time.” 

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authored by Lily Guiney
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F01%2F19%2Fwhitmer-lawmakers-discuss-rural-development-housing-crisis-at-northern-michigan-policy-conference%2F

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