Exploring right-sized housing in Northern Michigan

Up North, Towns Eye ‘Granny Flats’
Carolyn Kelly, Michigan Land Use Institute

Related feature from MLUI Media:
Young People Speak Up for Granny Flats

Somehow, it doesn’t seem to add up: Northwest Lower Michigan’s population is rising, but the number of people living in its towns and villages is falling.

Apartment hunting in the region quickly reveals one reason behind this apparent mystery: Cities and towns have a shortage of quality, right-sized housing for people who live alone or in pairs. With America’s average household size falling, more singles and couples are forced to move into homes that have too much room. This not only wastes some of their rent or mortgage money, it also leaves lots of unused bedroom space, which effectively pushes down that community’s population.

That harms local businesses, revenue-sharing formulas, and school enrollments—and concentrates taxes on an ever smaller number of people.

This is why officials in Traverse City, Frankfort, Suttons Bay, Petoskey, and some other area communities are now looking at reviving regulations allowing more so-called “accessory dwelling units.” Also called “granny flats,” “carriage houses,” or even “mortgage helpers,” these small upstairs and backyard units, usually for one or two people, were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in many towns, large and small.

Continue Reading Up North, Towns Eye ‘Granny Flats’ from the MLUI.

Grand Rapids Speeds Up Progress with Streetcars

Bring Back Rail Transit by B. Rizzo

As Grand Rapids enjoys a bit of an economic boom, the city is looking to continue to grow and attract by revitalizing the face of public transportation, with streetcars.

Andy Guy of the Michigan Land Use Institute explains in his recent article Agency Endorses Grand Rapids Streetcar.

Emboldened by rave reviews from a delegation sent to Portland, Ore., to study the economic effects of that city’s highly popular streetcar system, the board of directors of Grand Rapids’ regional public transit agency has voted to approve accelerating the study and design of a similar system of its own.At the same meeting, held two days ago, the board that directs the regional system, known as The Rapid, also took two other steps: It decided to ask local voters to approve a property tax increase to improve existing bus service, and directed its staff to pursue federal funding for constructing a new “rapid bus” system.

The three decisions are meant to enhance urban mobility, unleash another wave of private downtown investment, and boost economic competitiveness in this rapidly de-industrializing Midwestern city, which is working to transform itself into a major player in the burgeoning global knowledge economy.

The board’s action is another step forward in a long, arduous effort that could eventually lead to the construction of a proposed 2.4-mile streetcar system that would circulate throughout the central city. The currently proposed route would link commuters to a convention center, an arena, numerous bars and clubs, new hotels and residences, and several other popular destinations in the city’s central business district.

The project, estimated to cost approximately $69 million, is strikingly similar in terms of scale and cost to a number of streetcar systems already built or underway in cities across the United States. Portland’s, for example, cost $54 million, is 4.8 miles long, and in 10 years stimulated nearly $3 billion in new downtown investment, including the largest economic development project in that city’s history.

“Wherever the track goes down becomes ground zero for massive development,” said former Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie, one of the local leaders who went to Portland to study the streetcars and their effect on that city. “But private investment ripples about four blocks away on either side of the streetcar line. So you want to go where development has yet to occur.

Read the full story, and then check out Guy’s special series Growing Grand Rapids.

Article reprinted with permission from the Michigan Land Use Institute.