NORTHPORT — Four families may soon have a shot at owning affordably-priced homes in Northport after a local nonprofit joined forces with a landowner.
When finished, the three-bedroom, two-bath homes will be sold for about $159,000 each, targeting families with a median income of at least $45,000 per year.
The Vincer West project is being driven by the nonprofit Leelanau REACH, or Resources for Economical and Accessible Community Housing, which in the past brought affordable housing to Leelanau County. The group has not had a project since 2010.
"We know that workforce housing here is a big issue," said Ty Wessell, a Leelanau County commissioner who sits on the REACH board of trustees. "Four units in Northport would be helpful. There is a need and we're hoping that this is one small step in meeting that need."
The new homes will sit on about a 1-acre parcel donated by Northport resident Bill Collins, who owns a development on Vincer Way off M-22. That development has a dozen single-family homes or condominiums and 13 undeveloped lots. The donated parcel is adjacent to, but not a part of the Vincer Way development.
"We just needed to get REACH off dead center and these lots seemed right for that," said Collins, who has been involved with REACH for about 14 years.
The group tried to come up with a solution to the lack of workforce housing, which for years has impacted the area. Collins said it would seem reasonable that people would donate some land.
So he did.
"We appreciate the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Collins and are optimistic that things are going to proceed," Wessell said.
Collins, a retired engineer who is known as the father of the Pontiac GTO, has long been a supporter of the Northport community and had a hand in its revival over the past several years.
Collins, who also helped design the DeLorean, built and then donated the nine-hole Northport Creek Golf Course to the village. He funded and built the Village Arts Building, which has quickly become a popular venue for the Northport community. He also built and is now the owner of Tucker's restaurant and bowling alley.
The four homes are located in an area of Northport that is not served by the municipal sewer system, which represents a huge savings for future residents. Sewer hook-up fees in the village cost $18,126; in July that charge increases to $18,669. There also are quarterly user and debt service fees totaling nearly $800 per year.
All four houses will be built at the same time by Richard Parker, a Suttons Bay contractor.
Kim Pontius, CEO of Traverse Area Association of Realtors, said the four Northport homes are a good start, but 100 times that number are needed. Homes priced between $150,000 and $175,00 are a much sought after piece of the market, he said.
"But they're unicorns," Pontius said. "Some of them don't even make it to the market."
Unlike past REACH projects, this one will be done without any state or federal funding, as much of that type of funding no longer is available for smaller projects.
REACH is raising $60,000, the amount that is needed to secure a loan for the entire project from the Opportunity Resource Fund, a nonprofit organization that uses donated money to fund developers of affordable housing.
"We are looking for investors for this initial phase to secure funding and get this ball rolling," said Sarah Jane Johnson, the chairwoman for REACH.
In all, about $600,000 will be financed by the Opportunity Fund, which has been around for about 30 years, said Rolf von Walthausen and REACH board member. The group also finances prospective homeowners in that underserved category of those who have blemishes on their credit or who don't make enough money to get financed through a bank.
The money in the fund comes from private individuals who in the long term make a modest return on their investment, von Walthausen said.
"But these are investors who feel passionate about affordable housing and community development, which gets back to our mission," he said.
The problem of a lack of workforce housing is a complex one that has been exacerbated by investors picking up cheaper housing stock as it becomes available, updating the homes and then using them as rental income, von Walthausen said.
Workforce housing is desperately needed in Leelanau, he said.
"Because our workforce can no longer afford to live here, our workers can't raise their families where they work ... and that's gutting our community," he said.
In the past, Leelanau REACH has worked with the county's Planning and Community Development department to build two homes in Northport, three in Suttons Bay and three in Empire. Eight townhouses were built in Lake Leelanau and another three homes were moved out of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and rehabilitated before being sold.
The group also in 2007-08 worked with the federal Foreclosure Prevention Program, using 2 percent funds from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to establish deferred loans for nine homeowners to keep them in their homes.