TRAVERSE CITY — Four Traverse City-area nonprofits want to help other organizations and local governments strategize to take advantage of a trifecta of massive funding opportunities.
The Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Networks Northwest, Rotary Charities of Traverse City and Traverse Connect have asked Public Sector Consultants about ideas for using a “once-in-a-generation” shot at government funding to make strides on the region’s pressing needs, said GTRCF President and CEO David Mengebier.
While local governments are getting a direct shot of American Rescue Plan Act pandemic recovery funding, Michigan will get several billion more, both from ARPA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, he said. On top of that, Michigan lawmakers expect a budget surplus as revenues beat past estimates as the state’s economy recovers.
“We want this to be an inclusive process and try to get people to say, ‘Here’s what we think we really ought to focus our attention on,’ and just try to be really purposeful about trying to bring some of this really unprecedented level of funding and put it to work here in northwest Michigan,” Mengebier said.
Even before identifying what those priorities are, a few stand out, like housing, Mengebier said. Lack of housing options plays a role in everything from tight labor markets to compounding homelessness, so any funding aimed at housing is likely to be in high demand in the region.
That’s no surprise to Jon Stimson, executive director of HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing, he said. He’s already set to approach Leelanau County commissioners to request ARPA funding for an affordable housing project planned in Suttons Bay.
The eight townhouses will be a mix of two- and three-bedroom homes at various price points, with two set aside for people earning 30 percent Area Median Income or less — in Leelanau County, that’s $16,590 for one person, Stimson said.
HomeStretch would take part in the process GTRCF and others are putting together if invited, Stimson said.
Housing North will take part of the strategic planning, said Executive Director Yarrow Brown. The policy-focused nonprofit helps local governments assess what changes they can make, zoning or otherwise, to facilitate the building of housing at a variety of price points. It could seek funding for its Housing Ready staff, she said.
“It’s a great idea, we’re really glad to have our partners in the community thinking about this,” she said.
There’s a webpage for submissions — publicsectorconsultants.com/regional-infrastructure-project-inventory — from the five-county region the four nonprofits serve, where nonprofits, governments and individuals can voice their top priorities, projects and programs by March 11, Mengebier said. Then, Public Sector Consultants will help the organizations collate the results and follow up with organizations that have the capacity to pursue what they propose to identify funding possibilities.
“I think by being really purposeful and strategic about trying to match up our priorities with various funding streams .... I think it can really have a significant impact in those areas that we’ve identified, so I think it’s an ambitious project, but I think it’s a really worthwhile thing for us to pursue,” he said.
The strategic effort, while spurred by state and federal funding opportunities, will focus on money available from the state, Mengebier added.
Other likely priorities include child care, as regulations and the cost of keeping up with them make it hard for providers to stay open in the region, Mengebier said.
The region also lacks mental health care facilities for people experiencing a crisis, Mengebier said.
As a result, those who are having one often end up in the emergency room or jail, or have to head downstate if they have the ability. Also, the region is sorely lacking for behavioral health professionals like social workers, counselors and more.
Stimson said he hopes housing gets its due and isn’t the last in line for funding. He also believes projects that are ready to go like HomeStretch’s should get a boost in consideration.
“So if HomeStretch provides a shovel-ready property in any jurisdiction, it should have priority over a project that hasn’t been conceptualized,” he said.