Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 30, 2013

Housing projects get help

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County’s Land Bank Authority is partnering with two nonprofit groups on a project to bring affordable, green housing to Traverse City.

The land bank will purchase a 2.5-acre lot near the corner of Woodmere Avenue and Eighth Street from Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region and HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing Corp. The two nonprofits already formed an LLC and bought the land from Traverse City late last year with plans to develop affordable energy-efficient duplexes and net-zero energy homes on the plot.

Those plans will move forward with one modification: the land bank will buy the depot plot with $195,000 from a Housing and Urban Development grant and then deed the land back to the nonprofits.

Bill Merry, executive director of HomeStretch, welcome the land bank’s involvement in the project. He said it will help pay back loans and reduce debt the nonprofits must incur for the project, and lower the final pricetags on the affordable homes.

“There’s always a lot of talk about affordable housing, but when the (rubber) hits the road not everyone is involved. In this case there are a lot of entities involved,” Merry said, adding, “(the land bank) has done a lot of work behind the scenes.”

Much of the land bank’s behind-the-scenes work involved creating a county-owned housing trust fund in 2011. The county uses the trust fund primarily to purchase, fix up and sell blighted or tax delinquent properties. Proceeds from the sale of a property are used to pay off the property’s tax debt. Any remaining money goes back in to the trust fund.

The bank will allocate $100,000 from the housing trust fund to help cover the costs of upgrading water, sewer and sidewalk infrastructure.

The bank has partnered with Habitat and HomeStretch before, but never on a project of this scale, said Grand Traverse County Commissioner Sonny Wheelock, who sits on the land bank board.

“This is a much grander scale and a perfect opportunity for this partnership to make a significant difference for affordable housing in the community,” Wheelock said.

A shortage of affordable housing has plagued the Grand Traverse area over the last 15 to 20 years, said Sarah Lucas, a regional planner for the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.

Renters and buyers often face “drive until you qualify” conditions, where they must travel miles outside of Traverse City to find affordable homes.

The nonprofit groups hope to break ground on the depot project next month, and Lucas said the homes will greatly improve Traverse City’s affordable housing shortage.

“It really meets that need we’ve seen for more affordable ownership properties near jobs, services, parks and schools,” Lucas said.