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‘Great community needs access to housing’: GR Chamber testifies on affordable housing crisis

Grand Rapids Chamber, Housing Michigan Coalition is working on legislation that tackles the lack of affordable housing for those in the workforce.
Posted at 7:29 PM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 20:20:34-04

LANSING, Mich. — Over the past six months, the Housing Michigan Coalition has been working on a package of bills meant to curb the lack of affordable housing in the state. Thursday afternoon, Josh Lunger, who runs the organization, testified about the crisis before the Michigan Senate.

“This is a topic we care a lot about,” Lunger said during the hearing in the Capitol building. “I'm sure all of you have heard from your districts over the course of probably the last few years of how important this discussion is.”

Lunger is also the senior director of government affairs with the Grand Rapids Chamber. He said the Housing Michigan Coalition -- which consists of 90 different organizations including nonprofits, for-profits, cities, townships and municipalities -- have been putting the final touches on the legislation that they hope to see implemented this summer.

“If you look at 2005, there were 54,721 single family permits pulled in the state. And by 2007, that number had dropped to 15,000. And by 2009, we had dropped to just over 6,000,” testified Dawn Crandall with the Home Builders Association. “Historically, we should be building anywhere between 25,000 and 30,000 new homes a year just to keep on par with our aging housing stock.”

However, that’s not happening, Lunger said during an interview with FOX 17 after the hearing. According to the census, there’s 90,000 new residents in Kent and Ottawa counties over the last 10 years. But, only 7,800 new housing units have been created in that time.

“That includes apartments. That includes single-family [homes] and with our aging housing stock as well we’re falling further behind. We’re not catching up,” Lunger said. “Our message is yes we need housing, and particularly, how can we look at all the cost drivers and make housing more attainable for the key part of our workforce because a great community needs access to housing.”

Lunger said the coalition's research shows that a large part of the workforce, from recent college graduates to executives, are having a hard time finding affordable housing. It also shows that the crisis stems from a number of barriers including the high cost of lumber.

Crandall testified during the hearing that in 2020, lumber was so high that it increased the price of new homes by $16,000. Vinyl siding was so costly that they’ve discontinued 15 of their most popular shades.

“Barrier No. 2 to housing is workforce and labor shortage, which has been an issue for years. It's not a COVID thing, but definitely has been increased during COVID,” Crandall continued. “With unemployment benefits, and we hear from our members, it's easier for individuals to stay home than to come back on to a job site.”

She said in 2019, 126,880 individuals were employed in the following trades: carpenters, construction laborers, electricians, and plumbers and pipefitters. To combat the shortage, their strategy is to ‘cultivate, educate and recruit’ people to those trades.

"Not only do we employ a lot of individuals in the residential construction industry, they are also good paying careers," Crandall addded. " I've just highlighted that the average median wage range starting with helpers is $13.51 an hour to construction manager being $46.48."

Thursday’s hearing lasted an hour but Lunger said they’ll testify again in the coming months.

However, in order for their plans to be successful, he said, they need community members to get involved too.

“I encourage people to go and find out more about how it would actually impact them [and] to be supportive of growth. Density can be a scary word to some folks but it’s also a way to drive down some costs and increase housing supply,” Lunger said. “Business leaders are engaging and we need other folks in the community to engage to say 'we’ve got to do more to remove obstacles to housing.' At the state level, we’d love to have many people support our Housing Michigan Package legislation.”