By Kate Carlson | Original Article
Nov. 7, 2017

Many community leaders in Midland understand there is a lack of affordable housing options in the community.

But the exact need is hard to quantify, and a solution will not be “one size fits all,” said Jennifer Chappel, executive director of Midland County Habitat for Humanity. That is why leaders of several local nonprofits and the city collaborated to secure funding for a housing study to assess specific housing needs in Midland.

“Affordable rentals in this community do not exist below a certain dollar amount and I think that’s where we’re seeing the biggest need at this point,” Chappel said.

Helping Midland residents solve their affordable housing problems is nothing new for nonprofits, Chappel said, and organization leaders have a good idea about what the problems are. But without data to back up their initial thoughts, it is hard to fully realize all of the problems and find a solution, she said.

Approval of a $56,438 study was finalized in August, and Virginia-based urban planning firm czb LLC came to Midland in mid-October, Chappel said. The firm worked with the city and other community leaders to facilitate stakeholder meetings with community members including realtors, landlords and nonprofit housing groups.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, families that pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

There are people in Midland who lack affordable housing, said Nancy Money, executive director at Midland Area Homes, including a homeless population with a very immediate need.

“I think our goal is to create an awareness of the need for affordable housing in the community and to have a better understanding of what that need is,” Money said. “We’re looking for the study to provide us that information and as a group to identify some solutions.”

Results from the study should be finalized by the end of the year or early in 2018. The study was funded by The Dow Chemical Co. Foundation, the Midland Area Community Foundation and the City of Midland Housing Commission.

czb LLC is the same firm that unearthed a bleak housing market in Bay City after conducting a housing study in 2016. Midland’s housing situation is not suspected to be that extreme, said Grant Murschel, director of planning and community development. The Virginia-based company has a vast knowledge of conducting similar studies nearby Midland and across the country, he said.

“They have worked throughout the U.S. and in a variety of different places,” Murschel said. “Pulling from those best practices is I think going to be extremely beneficial for Midland.”

A lot of changes have taken place in Midland since the last housing needs assessment took place in 2009, Murschel said. This study will go into “much more detail,” he said.

“If a family is in safe, decent and affordable housing, then all aspects of their life become more affordable for them,” Chappel said. “Children do better in school and their need on other community assistance lessens.”

Bringing the firm to Midland was not the work of one group but rather a collected effort among housing groups and the city, Chappel said. Nonprofits can all benefit from the study’s findings to make sure their work is meeting Midland’s needs in the most effective way, she said.

“The purpose of the study and what we’re all passionate about is collecting that data piece first,” said Shannon Lijewski, director of community impact at United Way of Midland County. “Oftentimes it’s too easy to jump to a solution and not have the quantified need to guide that decision-making.”

It is too soon to think about what solutions could be before the study is complete, Murschel said. But right now, “everything is on the table,” to address Midland’s housing needs, he said.

“At the end of the day it gets back to creating a community that meets the needs of everyone,” Murschel said.

In no way is the study considered a “quick fix,” to housing issues, Money said.

“This is a step in that process,” Money said. “It’s not going to be an easy one-solution fix to address this in our community, but being able to understand where the gaps are.”